Changes atop the Traffic Division

Posted by on January 10th, 2007 at 3:40 pm

[Commander Marty Rowley]

After just nine months on the job, Marty Rowley, Commander of the Traffic Division of the Portland Police Bureau will retire on January 17th.

In the interim, Lieutenant Mark Kruger will take his place until a new Commander is named. According to sources, Chief Sizer will keep Kruger in that position, “for a while,” but if this appointment is anything like the last one, she could name a new Commander very soon.

In the meantime, traffic safety and bicycle advocates hope to have some input on the selection. The Traffic Division plays a vital role in the bike community and the tone set by the Commander has a real impact on how enforcement and traffic safety issues are dealt with.

This was evident in the different styles of policing and leadership between former Commander Bill Sinnott and Rowley.

When Sinnott retired in March 2006 I lauded his work and called him a “tremendous ally” of the bike community. During his tenure he showed a sincere desire to work with and get to know the bike community. He approached enforcement by looking at conditions on the ground, rather than a strict interpretation of the law.

Alice Awards party

[Former Commander Sinnott (L) was
all smiles at the 2006 Alice Awards.
Also pictured are Jeff Bernards (C), Dat Nguyen (R).]

Rowley, on the other hand, has had a more enforcement-oriented approach. This has led to more citations being written not just to cyclists, but to motor vehicles as well (the number of DUII and speeding citations is way up, as are bike crash investigations).

Rowley’s by-the-book approach has ruffled feathers with some bike advocates. The BTA seemed to be at odds with Rowley’s style. They tend to favor engineering solutions over enforcement at some stop-signs (like the ones at Broadway and Flint and at SE 23rd and Salmon).

At one point the BTA’s head honcho Evan Manvel responded with “serious concerns about what happened” after an unannounced sting nabbed several cyclists near the Hawthorne Bridge last August.

But even though they had different styles, both Commanders were effective. While Sinnott’s work created exciting programs and relationships, Rowley’s penchant for strict enforcement is likely one of the reasons we have had a decrease in traffic fatalities, and zero bike fatalities in 2006 (more on those numbers later).

Lieutenant Kruger, who I heard from this morning, gives a lot of credit for these numbers to Rowley,

“I believe that our work (in 2006) has significantly contributed to the reduction we have seen in traffic fatalities in Portland…Commander Rowley kept us on the track of that important work.”

Beyond leadership styles, another concern is a perception that the Police Bureau tends to keep the Traffic Division’s top spot as a convenient way to promote veteran officers from other bureaus to Commander before they retire (retiring as Commander puts them in a higher pension bracket).

Traffic Enforcement Action NE 7th & Knott

Whether that is really happening or not, the trend of short tenures in this position makes it difficult to build community relations, especially when there’s such an inconsistent approach to policy and practice.

I think everyone would benefit from having a more consistent expectation of the policies and practice of the Traffic Division.

There is a lot of buzz going on about how the community might advocate to help influence Sizer’s selection for the next Commander. PDOT traffic safety guru Greg Raisman would like to see the best of both worlds,

“What we need is a hybrid…someone who can do the enforcement with an inclusive approach and with open communications.”

I agree. While the bike community has lost some footing with the Police Bureau in the last nine months, we need to work together to rebuild that relationship.

We can begin by letting Police Chief Sizer know how important this position is to cyclists. We need to let her know that cyclists feel enforcement is a very important part of traffic safety, that we’ve made a lot of ground working with the Police Bureau on a variety of issues and the right Commander can really take things to the next level.

I encourage you to email the Chief with your thoughts and copy it to Commissioner Adams and Mayor Potter.

Police Chief Sizer – chiefsizer@portlandpolice.org
Commissioner Adams – commissionersam@ci.portland.or.us
Mayor Potter – tpotter@ci.portland.or.us

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Dabby
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Dabby

Well,
Honestly, this scares me.
Mr. Kruger’s track record, in and out of uniform, is alarmingly scary, and I am amazed he is even still a police officer.
Yet, it does say “interim”, which gives us the opportunity to have someone else put into this position soon.
Kruger is not even close to who we need near the top of the traffic enforcement pyramid.
I have so much more to say about this, but luckily for me, Kruger’s past will speak for itself, and this problem should be taken care of fortwith.

Joel H
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Joel H

Yeah, unfortunately Kruger’s name was familiar to me as well. The Mercury had a column on him here:

http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/Content?oid=31818&category=22101

Sara
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Sara

Jonathan, how did we have zero cyclist fatalities in 2006? I remember 3 cyclists being killed in late summer to fall. Do they not count because they happened outside of city limits?

adam
Guest

this leadership style is why I had to leave…kruger is a great man, I am sure? his brownbooted style is a sure fire community builder. I have sent many emails to those addresses with 0 replys.

best of luck with all of those ideas out there, I really hope something good comes out of it. if I still cared, I would advise just taking over the system..

amsterdam is rainy but the cops seem to really not concerned about cyclists…well, they seem to be concerned about their safety and welfare but not so much about ticketing and nakedness and fixies and well, you know.

the previous commenter’s art pretty much says it all.

Ethan
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Ethan

So let me get this straight, Rowley did not keep Frodo from dropping the ring into Mt Doom?

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
Guest

Sara,

Yes, there were zero bike fatalities in the city of Portland in 2006. The ones you mention were outside city limits and therefore aren’t tallied with in the City’s count.

I’ll have more details on the numbers asap.

Clay Fouts
Guest
Clay Fouts

I suppose it’s better — since no one with the requisite power has the will to fire them, altogether — for the most violent, thuggish cops to be promoted into the traffic division instead of remaining in enforcement areas that entail a higher probability of them continuing to harm the citizenry. Reduces the city’s liability exposure, as well, which Kruger strained enough already.

ben
Guest

“During a Mercury reader survey in March, Kruger was overwhelmingly nominated as Portland’s “Most Rotten Cop.” Beyond humanitarian issues, Kruger has opened the city up to more than $1 million in liability lawsuits. “