By Hillel Aron
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By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Jill Stewart
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Kroeker responds that his beliefs have evolved, implying that he has become more tolerant: "The principal driving mission that exists with me now in my life, and in the way I operate with people, is peace." But does Kroeker still believe that homosexuality is, to use the biblical term, an abomination? "Let me say this," he said. "Gays are people. Gays have a wide range of places in life. They are our sons and daughters, and they're our fellow police officers. And they are in business and government, and they are also on the street, and some are criminals, and some are not. And gays are inculcated in American life. I have gays as my neighbors. And that's who gays are in my opinion -- American people."
It sounds as though Kroeker is politely dodging the question, reluctant to deny a belief that he holds and reluctant to state a belief that he knows could offend. The more reassuring comments come not from Kroeker, but from a cross section of Portland police officers, including the first two openly gay males in the Portland Police Bureau, the first transgender officer, and a founder of VISION, an officer organization that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender officers in Portland. The officers forwarded their testimonial to the Weekly at Kroeker's request.
"Frankly, if Chief Kroeker is selected as your chief, many citizens of Portland and members of the Portland Police Bureau will miss him greatly," the officers state. "Many in our Bureau and community were hurt when his taped comments were made public. All of us had to decide whether he could be our Chief. He never turned down a request to meet with us as a group or individually, and he sincerely answered the toughest questions. He invited LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] officers into his home and attended community-wide forums . . . He has never shown bias in our workplace towards ä
LGBT officers. He has promoted LGBT members into command positions, actively engaged the Bureau's Sexual Minority Roundtable, recruited officers from the LGBT community, and worked hard to provide LGBT officers a workplace without bias and hate."
Kroeker nearly lost his job in Portland when the tapes became known. "That sparked a lot of outrage, especially among the gay and lesbian community, which was at least for a while only made worse by a series of evasive responses to direct questioning," said Kristian Williams of Portland's Copwatch, a nonprofit police-accountability organization critical of Kroeker's response to the tapes, and his tenure as chief in general. Williams noted that Kroeker refused to retract the statements, saying they were his private religious beliefs and not related to his public conduct as Portland's chief: "He's apologized for his hurt feelings, he hasn't apologized for what he said." Williams added: "Let me put it this way: When Charles Moose left -- he was our chief before Kroeker -- we didn't feel honor-bound to [warn] the city he was applying to . . . and we did with Kroeker."
Kroeker has since marched annually in the city's gay-pride parade, and has regularly attended gay-themed community events in Portland. Within the bureau itself, he's required all sworn officers to attend training about transgender issues and successfully pushed for such training to be adopted statewide in Oregon. He's also authorized recruiting booths at the Portland Pride festival and advertised for recruits in Oregon's leading LGBT magazine. In addition, he established an assistant chief to be liaison to the LGBT police-officers organization, and worked closely with gay-community leaders as part of his citizen advisory committee.
ALMOST TWO YEARS LATER, MANY LOCAL advocates praise Kroeker's overall performance as well, despite budget cuts and the increased demands of 9/11. They single out his community-policing efforts, which include naming senior neighborhood officers to address neighborhood concerns. These officers are similar to the LAPD's popular senior lead officers, which former police Chief Bernard Parks did not favor.
Kroeker's critics at Copwatch charge that he has moved too slowly both to address alleged racial profiling and to refine his department's system for tracking problem cops. One problem with the tracking system is that complaints against officers don't automatically enter this system unless the bureau's Internal Affairs Department investigates the incident. So an officer could generate many complaints and still have an unblemished record. This issue has resonance in L.A., where the police department has, for a decade, failed to install a promised system to track problem officers and misconduct complaints. Critics also fault Kroeker for heavy-handed police conduct at a May Day gathering two years ago that The Oregonian termed "riot control where a riot didn't exist." On the other hand, Kroeker took responsibility for this incident and then developed a generally well-regarded rapid-response team to handle demonstrations.
Kroeker made national headlines last November, when he refused to conduct 23 interviews of foreign nationals requested by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, arguing that the manner of questioning violated Oregon state law designed to protect the rights of individuals.
Still, does Kroeker's record satisfy the binding terms of the Grobeson settlement? For now, the City Attorney's Office is hedging its bets. "This office supports the spirit of the particular provision that we are talking about, not just because it's in the Grobeson settlement, but because it's the right thing to do," said Cecilia Estolano, special assistant city attorney. "We can't specifically comment on the Kroeker situation, because that's really up to the Police Commission to decide how they are going to apply this." So the ball is now in the commission's court, and it will have to decide how to interpret Grobeson, and how to judge Kroeker on his conduct and record.