PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The City withdrew its conditional offer to hire Tom Datro as the new Civilian Training Dean for Portland Police Wednesday.
The about face comes just five days after PPB announced the 20-year LAPD veteran had been selected for the role – pending a background check.
Amid the announcement Friday, Chief Chuck Lovell said, “I was deeply impressed with Dr. Datro and believe adding him into this new position is an integral part of continuing our innovative reform work.”
A sentiment echoed by Mayor Ted Wheeler, who stated, “Dr. Datro’s experience in the field of law enforcement training and his commitment to community engagement will enhance our ongoing efforts to reform the system by increasing accountability and transparency in community safety.”
However, the praise was short lived, as the PPB issued a release to announce the City had “withdrawn the conditional offer of employment for Tom Datro as the Academic Training Director,” Wednesday afternoon.
When asked about the about-face decision, Mayor Ted Wheeler’s Office issued a statement which read, “This is a personnel matter, and as a result of the background check, the City withdrew the conditional offer of employment. We intend to restart the process and move forward as quickly as possible.”
But for many community leaders, the decision to hire Datro as the Civilian Training Dean was controversial from the start, with several activists and legal experts taking to social media to point out Datro (who was still working as an LAPD sergeant at the time of the hiring announcement), was not what many would qualify as a civilian.
“This is not what the role was meant to be, and this is not what the community asked for,” said Community Activist, Jake Dockter. “From my awareness of the settlement agreement and the DOJ requests, they wanted to have a civilian who could provide a civilian perspective next to the police perspective. So, bringing in another police officer seems totally counter to that.”
Datro, who runs “Policing In America Podcast,” has been outspoken about his dislike for police reform and ideas surrounding implicit bias training.
“The Mayor’s office and the Chief of Police put out a statement saying this person is all about reform,” Dockter told KOIN 6 News. “And then all of a sudden there were threads and information coming out about this person who says that he doesn’t believe in reform, and doesn’t believe in unconscious bias. How does this jive with that progressive reform that you’re talking about?”
The creation of the Civilian Training Role was one of several requirements PPB agreed to take on to come back into compliance with a settlement agreement with the Justice Department – after a Federal investigation found officers used excessive force towards people with mental illness.
Juan Chavez, Director of the Civil Rights Project at the Oregon Justice Resource Center and an attorney who represented the Mental Health Alliance in that suit said the Friday’s announcement came as a shock.
“The news of the hire (or potential hire) hit the community like a ton of bricks,” Chavez stated. “The creation of the Civilian Dean position is for accountability. It is for curing the problems within the Police Bureaus’ inadequate training and clear bias, that we’ve seen both in practice and in the training materials that are given.”
He continued, “So, hiring a 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, a department that has a long history of bias and excessive force itself, was very concerning.”
The Mental Health Alliance (MHA) told KOIN 6 News they reached out to PPB and offered to be a part of the screening and hiring process — but were turned away.
“We were told there were already too many people on the hiring panel,” Jason Renaud with MHA said. “If we had been there, we would have objected to a career officer – regardless of who the person is or their academic credentials – being the first civilian head of training.”
Renaud continued, “The purpose of a civilian being the head of training was to gain – at a high and powerful level – a non-police person to push back against how things have always been done, to bring research and experience outside of police departments, to change and transform the PPB. That purpose is undermined when the PPB selects a career officer in this position.”
According to the City, screening and hiring for the Civilian Training Dean will resume as quickly as possible.