Last summer, Susanne O’Dea said she flew to Portland from her home in Virginia to visit with her eldest son, Larry.

“I remember we were just sitting around and Larry said, ‘Maybe I should retire,’ ” his mother recalled.

But his mother knew he had to be kidding. Her son had risen through the ranks of the Portland Police Bureau to serve as an assistant chief. Susanne O’Dea said she told him, “No, you’re not done here.”

And she was right.

On Thursday, his mother and father watched as Larry O’Dea, 52, was sworn in as the city’s 45th chief of police. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales appointed O’Dea to succeed Mike Reese, who retired.

O’Dea, a 28-year bureau veteran, thanked his father, Lawrence O’Dea Jr., an Army veteran, for passing down his sense of service and work ethic, and his mother for having faith in his abilities.

“My mom told me you can do anything that you put your mind to,” O’Dea said, speaking before a standing-room-only crowd in the second-floor auditorium of the Portland Building. “Those words matter.”

O’Dea spoke after he was formally sworn in, two commanders were promoted to assistant chief, two captains were promoted to commander, five lieutenants were promoted to captain and two new officers were sworn in.

O’Dea has added a fourth assistant chief to his command staff, promoting Kevin Modica, an African American bureau veteran, who will oversee community engagement efforts. He also promoted Robert Day, most recently Central Precinct commander, as an assistant chief.

O’Dea called it a  “defining moment for police,” one in which officers must focus on relationship-based policing to rebuild the community’s trust in the Police Bureau.

The new chief described his vision: He wants to build an organization that has diverse members and diverse leadership, “so anyone in the community can look inside and see someone that looks like them.”

He plans to extend education courses about how race affects the job police do to the rank-and-file, and with the hiring soon of a bureau equity manager, make sure the bureau’s hiring and promotion policies are inclusive.

Larry O’Dea
Larry O’Dea, Portland’s 45th chief of police, spoke about his priorities after a formal swearing-in ceremony Thursday, Jan. 8, 2014, at the Portland Building.

“A well-trained, well-educated diverse workforce that is working on community priorities is our path to continue to build trust in the community, as well as allowing us to tailor our public safety response to what different segments of the community require,” O’Dea said.

To move forward, officers must also reach out to the community’s youth, he said.

O’Dea thanked a group of Rosa Parks Elementary School students for accepting his invitation to attend the ceremony. Six fourth- and fifth-graders sat in the front row with their principal and assistant principal. O’Dea credited Sgt. Willie Halliburton for establishing a relationship with the students. He’d routinely stop in and have lunch at the school when he patrolled the New Columbia neighborhood.

“It shows the impact one bureau member can have,” O’Dea said. “That relationship is so critical.”

And O’Dea told the students that police officers are here to help them.

“We are here to commit to you to do the very best in serving you,” he said.

O’Dea told the newly promoted command staff and two new hires that they were there because they earned their new badges. One of the new officers hired, Eric Tomlinson, 34, is a Jefferson High School graduate who grew up in Northeast Portland and said he wants to make a difference in his own community.

“You’re here because I trust you in helping move this bureau forward,” he told the group.

“Remember, like Mom says, we can do anything we put our mind to … and let’s make a difference,” O’Dea said.

O’Dea served as a reserve officer in Fairfax County, Va., and a reserve deputy sheriff in Clackamas County before joining Portland police in 1986. He was appointed as an assistant chief in November 2008, and most recently served as assistant chief of operations.

Mayor Charlie Hales announced in October that he had selected O’Dea to succeed Mike Reese as chief, without conducting formal interviews or a national search process. He said he was confident that O’Dea was the best person for the job. The mayor said that national searches are “occasionally doable,” but can be destructive as well.

Arianna Rice, 11, on left, and Isaac Salcido, 10, on right, were among the Rosa Parks Elementary School students who attended the swearing-in ceremony for new Portland police chief Larry O’Dea on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. “I like that he took his mom’s advice, and that he’s here and has a good career,” Salcido said after the ceremony. 

On Thursday, Hales urged bureau members to remember the words of former United Kingdom prime minister and policing luminary Sir Robert Peel: “The police are the public and the public are the police.”

“He got it right. We are working everyday to get it right,” Hales said.

Hales expressed support for the bureau, called the relationship between the police and the community in Portland “sound” but said there’s room for improvement.

O’Dea has said his immediate priorities will be carrying out U.S. Justice Department reforms, drafting a police budget, overseeing the anticipated changeover to a new regional police database in April and hiring a new equity and diversity manager.

He anticipates some structural staffing changes in patrol, he said. He’s considering broadening patrol districts into larger sectors covered by teams of officers to have more flexibility to fill in when officers are off. He also wants to make sure there are enough officers assigned to patrol operations before staffing specialty divisions, such as gang enforcement or street crimes.

After the swearing-in ceremony was done, the six Rosa Parks students in the front stood and reflected on their visit.

Treveyontae Charity, 11, said he expected to see the police in uniform, but most were in their civilian clothes for the event.

“I liked how they talked about how they work to keep this place safe,” said Arianna Rice, 11.

And Isaac Salcido had clearly listened to the new chief’s words closely.

“I like that he took his mom’s advice,” Salcido said, “and that he’s here and he has a good career.”

–Maxine Bernstein

[email protected]
503-221-8212; @maxoregonian

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