Rosie Sizer became Portland’s police chief in 2006, during a scandalous sexual harassment investigation against then-Chief Derrick Foxworth. Sizer, fifty, is a native Portlander, a Portland State University graduate, and the daughter of a career cop; she worked her way up from street patrol to command a bureau of some thirteen hundred officers and staff. “[Being a police officer is] almost intoxicating because you’re … seeing parts of life and the way people live and behave that you ordinarily aren’t exposed to in your normal life,” she has said. “The challenge is to balance that intoxication with the rest of your life, so that the job doesn’t start to control you.” She once told Willamette Week that as chief of the Portland Police Bureau, the prospect of terrorism or natural disaster most worried her because either would “strain our resources, kind of shatter the sense this community has of itself.” Lately, though, gang violence and a budget crisis have demanded her attention. We sat down with her in late March for a check-in.
When the Derrick Foxworth scandal was unfolding three years ago, Mayor Tom Potter summoned you from the shooting range to name you acting chief. I remember watching the press conference: you were wearing a sweatshirt, fatigues, and combat boots, and you looked a bit shell-shocked.
It was very unexpected. He didn’t give me much turnaround time to tell him whether I was going to accept or reject the job. We met at two o’clock in the afternoon, and he said there was going to be a four o’clock press conference.
What did you think when the mayor first said, “Rosie, I’ve got a job for you … ”?
I was thinking, “That’s not a job I ever expected to get nor ever particularly desired, and it’s a really risky job.” I have been a police officer since 1985; I’d seen many chiefs come and go. I said [to myself], “You know, it’s a risky job, but not in the way that you face risk every day.” When was the last time you ever heard of a police chief dying in the line of duty? In a role like this, the thing you risk is abject public humiliation, and you can survive that.