BikePortland.org

Changes atop the Traffic Division

[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.

[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).

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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