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Chief Chuck Lovell - Podcast

A conversation with Portland Police Chief, Chuck Lovell. It's a chance for the Chief to talk about what shaped him growing up, his experiences with the Bureau, and what service means to him.

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Transcript:

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Hey, chief. Welcome to the Talking Beat.

Chief Lovell:
Hi, Terri.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
We've been on hiatus for a little bit after this crazy 18 months we've had, and in that time you became chief, so we haven't had you on as a guest. A lot of people don't know anything personally about you. They just know that you've been the chief since June of 2020 and we'll talk about what you've been doing in a little bit. Let's first back up for a little bit and talk about where you came from. Tell me a little bit about your background.

Chief Lovell:
Sure. Well, it all started back in 1973. I'm originally from Brooklyn, New York. I lived in Brooklyn till I was seven and then my family and I moved upstate about two hours to a small town called Wappingers Falls. It's right outside of Poughkeepsie if any of you know where that is, and I lived there till I was 19 and then I left to join the Air Force.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
What made you decide to join the Air Force?

Chief Lovell:
I was in school, I was studying criminal justice. I was in my second year of community college and I essentially ran out of money. I was working two jobs at the time. My dad was ill, so I was trying to help my mom a little bit, but I knew I wanted to finish school. I was just looking for ways where I knew I could support myself and finish my education, and the Air Force was a good opportunity to do that.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Let's back up for a little bit. I just recently learned that your father was a pastor. Tell me about that a little bit.

Chief Lovell:
Yeah, so I'm a PK. My dad, he preached at a church in Brooklyn and it was actually his uncle or my great uncle's church. It was called Mount Zion Christian Church, and he preached there pretty regularly, almost every Sunday. Then, when we moved two hours north, he continued to preach there, so I would spend many a weekend in the car driving down to New York to hear my dad preach.

Chief Lovell:
A lot of my relatives went to that church as well, and he would often tap me to be part of the service. I would typically have some reading part or assisting with taking up the collection, or had some role I would play on a Sunday down in the city.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Back to the Air Force then, tell me about your time there.

Chief Lovell:
Sure. Initially when I was joining the Air Force, I wanted to be a cop in the Air Force, so I took my test and I got my results back and talked to my recruiter. My recruiter told me, he said, "You don't really want to be a cop in the Air Force." I'm like, "What?" He's like, "Yeah." He's like, "Your scores are great. You can have any job you want." He's like, "If you're a cop in the Air Force, first thing you need to know is, there's not a lot of crime on an Air Force base. Two, you're probably going to be standing out in the cold and the heat and the rain and the snow guarding a gate or a flight line or planes or something like that." He's like, "What you want to do is this job in intelligence, because you'll get a security clearance, you'll get to travel, do all this cool different stuff."

Chief Lovell:
He actually talked me into taking a job as an intelligence operation specialist in the Air Force, and that's what I did during my four years. After my four years in the Air Force, I was stationed in Virginia at Langley Air Force Base. Then, I took a job after that at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Chief Lovell:
I did essentially what I did in the Air Force, but as a consultant. I was a consultant on a intelligence program for the South Korean government. I worked for the Air Force, South Korean government, and the National Security Agency as a consultant on a program. I did that for four years, and then at the time my girlfriend lived here in Portland. I had met someone in the Air Force and she was from Longview, but went to University of Portland and always wanted to come back to this area. That's how I ended up coming to Portland.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Oh, it's always about love.

Chief Lovell:
It's always, yeah.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Now, I'm always curious what brings people to Portland, and then how did you find your way to the Portland Police Bureau?

Chief Lovell:
Well, I had always wanted to be a police officer and while I was in the Air Force and working after the Air Force in Ohio, I was still studying criminal justice and I ended up finishing my criminal justice degree in 1999. When I did move to Portland, there wasn't a big defense industry here. I talked to Boeing about a job up in Seattle, but I didn't want to be that far away. I came to the realization that maybe it was a good time to try to be a police officer. I applied with the Portland Police Bureau and then lo and behold, the rest is history. I started the academy, Police Corps Academy in December of 2001, got hired in May of 2002.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
I forgot that you were a Police Corps, so Police Corps was a federally funded program that helped with education costs and if you went through it and it was very successful I believe.

Chief Lovell:
Yeah, it was a good program. I'd like to see that program come back. It was basically an effort by the Federal Government to get college educated folks into police work. Initially when it started, it paid $7,500 a year for your four years of college for a total of 30,000 that they'd contribute to your schooling. Then, in turn, you would commit to working four years for a department that sponsored you.

Chief Lovell:
I was the first class where you had to have your degree first, and then they'd reimburse you for school. Then, you'd work for four years, but you can continue after the four-year commitment as well.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Well, that's a good thing because you're still here. You get through your training, you get assigned. What precinct did you work at after your training?

Chief Lovell:
I had the benefit of working at all five precincts we had at the time when I rotated through as a trainee. I settled into North day shift when I got off of a probation.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Five precincts. Wow. Now we have three.

Chief Lovell:
Yeah, it was Northeast Precinct at the time.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
What kind of officer do you think you were?

Chief Lovell:
I like to think of myself as just a compassionate public servant. One that just really wants to help people. I think when I look back at my just life and career, there were a lot of people in my family who were like, "You're going to be a pastor just like your dad." I was like, "Nope, probably not," but in a way I look at police work like a ministry.

Chief Lovell:
I mean, you get to help people at times when they really need it. You come across people at different times in their life. Good and bad, but it's a way I think to pour some of yourself and your heart for service into the work you do, and really take the time to show people compassion. You leave them hopefully with the feeling that, "This police officer cared about me. This wasn't just another call for service."

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
After you realized your dream of being a police officer, was there anything that surprised you?

Chief Lovell:
When I first came here, not being from Portland, I didn't know a lot of the history of Portland and the police bureau. I came here and it was a time where, like many times I guess in our history, we're trying to recruit, we want to recruit diversity, that's very important. I came here thinking, "Oh great. Come here, work in Portland." I worked in what was then really the heart of the black community, and there were people like, "Yeah, we want black officers working in the black community."

Chief Lovell:
I show up, Chuck Lovell want to help everybody and do a great job. I met with some hostility by people too, not all the time, but you'd get it from time to time where people are like, "Oh, why are you working for the man?" This, that, and they would cite things that I had no idea about, Burger Barn, smoke them, don't choke them. Some historical things that I just didn't have awareness of not being from Portland.

Chief Lovell:
Over time, I would talk to older veteran officers who'd been here for a while, community people and just learned some of the history. I remember thinking, "Wow, it would've been nice to know this stuff beforehand." I think it would've helped me to have that context as I started out early in my career.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Yeah. I know at one point in training they did that. They took officers on a tour and they talked about some of those dark periods and some of those historical moments so that officers would be more self-aware about some of the... You're talking about 25 or 30 years ago when probably a lot of our officers weren't even alive yet. These stories and these horrific things that happen, so have been passed down from generation to generation so they're not forgotten by the community. I know that it's important for officers to realize that, and I know they're still having those conversations and training about it.

Chief Lovell:
Yeah. We did the Equity 101 training, where we talked a lot about the history of Portland and what it means when you show up with this patch on your arm. What the city and the police bureau represents to some people and a little bit of the history, and I think that's good context for officers to have.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Let's go back to you. Then, you get promoted as sergeant?

Chief Lovell:
Yeah. I went to the school police division for about four years and I worked at Jefferson High School. I have a lot of great memories and connections and relationships that came out of there, and then I promoted to sergeant in 2011.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
And went to where?

Chief Lovell:
I went, again, to North Precinct this time on night shift as a sergeant.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
You have a pattern here.

Chief Lovell:
Yeah.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
You're back in North as a sergeant.

Chief Lovell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) North night shift. I enjoyed night shift. The sleep was hard, but for me, I felt it was an opportunity to really connect with young officers and help young officers. It's difficult when you promote to sergeant fairly early in your career and if you go to a day shift per se, you've got veteran officers. You wonder like, "How much do I have to offer someone who's been here for 25 years already?" I think on night shift, for me, we had a lot of younger officers who were eager to work. I felt like going there, I had really the opportunity to, one, connect with them and help them and share some of my experiences to help them do their jobs better. Be safe and help take care of them.

Chief Lovell:
After North nights, I went to the Detective Division and I was there in the Property Crimes Unit. At that time, we had detectives who worked in the precincts and at the time it was called DCT, detective coordination team, so I was the sergeant for that. We had, I think about two detectives in each precinct doing property crimes cases, mostly helping officers with different cases that they were working on. That was a great time.

Chief Lovell:
I learned a lot about just general investigations and supervising detectives, and that was a good learning experience for me as a pretty young sergeant. Then, I went to the human trafficking division and I was there for a couple years maybe doing that work. That was important work. I was really, really fortunate to get the opportunity to do that. Just working closely with victims and seeing how human trafficking, sex trafficking affects people and families, and trying to get people out of that life and onto something more positive.

Chief Lovell:
Then, I went from the human trafficking detail to the personnel division. I was the first ever recruitment manager at the police bureau. At the time, I'll be honest, I didn't really want to go to the personnel division. Being a detective, sergeant's a great job and then it's like, oh, personnel.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Yeah.

Chief Lovell:
At the time, it was a time where we were really needing bodies and I was approached to come there and help us recruit, help us recruit diverse candidates. I had some ideas that I thought would be helpful there. I ended up there and worked on a program with John Jay College in New York to try to bring some diverse candidates from the East Coast here to Portland. We had two recruiters at the time. We did a really fantastic job. We did a lot of recruitment events together and we were able to hire a lot of people in the time I was up there. I'm really proud of that.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Then you made your way to the chief's office for a little bit, from what I recall.

Chief Lovell:
Yeah. I was a sergeant in personnel. Then, I took the lieutenant's test and I got promoted to lieutenant in 2017 and then went to the Behavioral Health Unit. I was there for about 12 weeks and then Chief Outlaw asked me to come up to the chief's office and be her adjutant.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Tell me about that experience. What was it like? I think it's really eye opening sometimes for people to come up and work alongside a chief, and not really having that day-to-day view of what a chief goes through. Tell me a little bit about that experience.

Chief Lovell:
That was probably a large part of the reason I'm sitting here today, was having that experience. It's different. I think when you have a chief come from the outside and then you come up as the adjutant and you work very closely with that chief, at a time too where a lot of people internally don't know that person, it's very interesting because people are very curious too. They want to know, what's this person about? What are they like? What do they think about this?

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
What's she like? What's she like?

Chief Lovell:
What do they think about that? For me, I just wanted to come up and be a good support person. I think for me, I had really good and still do have really good relationships outside the police bureau and internally. I wanted to utilize those to help her acclimate to the police bureau in the city.

Chief Lovell:
I think in that job, it's really important to have a sense of what the chief needs to be successful. There's so many things that are involved in it that you see that you never really think about until you're up here actually in the chief's office. Throughout your career, you hear so much about the 15th floor, the chief's office, this or that, but till you're here and you see it and you experience it, it's really an eye-opener.

Chief Lovell:
I think a lot of the time we got to spend just with community leaders, with people in the city internally, with the commissioner's office, the mayor's office. A lot of that I think was really informative and helped me I think throughout my career since then.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Then, Chief Outlaw leaves and Chief Resch begins her tenure, and you went to Community Services Division, correct at that point?

Chief Lovell:
Yeah. I went to the Community Services Division just prior to Chief Outlaw leaving. The Community Services Division oversaw the Behavioral Health Unit, and we did a lot of community type events. We also did a lot of work with our advisory committees as well.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Then, as we know, the world came apart in 2020. First with COVID and I know at the police bureau it was, for all of us, personally, it was really difficult to transition to have part of us working at home suddenly. Then, of course, our coworkers who couldn't work at home, still doing their jobs and in a really scary time. I think we were managing it pretty well. Then, we had the murder of George Floyd and that changed everything, didn't it?

Chief Lovell:
Yeah, it did for me, for sure. I think that'll go down as probably one of the most impactful, memorable times for a lot of people's career. At the time, I was working in the Community Services Division, but I came down to Central Precinct to help out as the commander. I was doing a lot of the crowd control stuff. Central Precinct really needed someone to be there during the day and night shift just to run the precinct.

Chief Lovell:
I was down there for a while helping out, and then I came up to the chief's office for a little while to assist Chief Resch, just with really community stuff. Meeting with people, getting connections, talking through some of the things that we had going on and figuring out what the path forward was going to be.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
And so, for our listeners who don't know, Chief Resch at the time said that she made the decision to step aside. She felt it was the right time and that you were the right person to be the next chief. And so, you got tapped suddenly into this role in June of 2020, at a time where certainly we were in crisis. What were you thinking? What went through your head? No. No, thank you.

Chief Lovell:
No, I'll be honest. To me, I think my head was saying no, but my heart said, yes. It was a tough decision. It was a tough time. I don't know if there's any even long time seasoned veteran chiefs who had an answer for what was going on at that moment in time. For me, I think it really boiled down to the feeling of, if there's anything I could possibly do to help the organization that I care about, the community that I care about, I have to try to do it. I couldn't say no.

Chief Lovell:
Then, I think I would've felt, for however long, maybe the rest of my life that maybe I'd turn my back on the organization or the city. I didn't want that, but I think it was a very, very tough time, very daunting. During that time, you'd walk the streets and there'd be all kinds of horrible things written on buildings. It was not a time where you'd really want to be the face of a police department.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Chief, you and I have talked about this and you're actually the 12th chief that I have worked under in 25 years. I don't recall anybody having to step in at a more of a critical time for the city, for the agency. In a way, as I'm sitting here and listening to your story, I'm thinking that everything prepared you for this time. Even your childhood, growing up and seeing as a child of somebody who was dedicated to service. Then, you serve your country and then you come to Portland and you continue service, and you find that you're good at it. You're good at helping people and solving problems, and then even your career here. Now, of course, your time in personnel, because if anyone hasn't heard, we are hiring.

Chief Lovell:
Yes.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
You know how to recruit, so all of your past experiences led you to this point. Now, you're leading an agency that got a staffing shortage, a critical staffing shortage. Things are getting brighter and we're now able to hire. Tell me about where you see us going in the next few months.

Chief Lovell:
Yeah. Well, I think it's probably worthwhile to touch on what you said about the preparation. I think for me, when I look back at my life, it's really been about some type of service ever since my first job as a paperboy. I think that was probably one of the most formative experiences for me in terms of learning about service to community and people.

Chief Lovell:
Like I said, when I moved from Brooklyn, I was seven and we moved from essentially an all black neighborhood to an all white neighborhood. That was an important transition for me at that time too, was really trying to learn a new environment. Then, when I was in, I don't know, probably sixth grade, around 12 years old, I had my first job as the neighborhood paperboy. I would get up and ride my bike and deliver newspapers every morning. Once a month, you would have to go collect the money for the newspaper.

Chief Lovell:
I had about 50 or 60 people on my paper route, and I'd have to go knock on their door. You have this relationship that you form as a young kid with these adult people in your neighborhood. Some would open the door two inches and slide a checkout and then close the door. Others would open the door and say, "Hey, come on in. We're just about to sit down to dinner," and there'd be a plate for you at the dinner table. You would spend time with them and their family. Over time, you got to know those people. I had keys to most of the people's houses in my neighborhood, because I'd watch their-

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Wow.

Chief Lovell:
... plants and pick up their mail or feed their pets while they were gone, that sort of thing. That for me, really solidified the importance of community and being part of the fabric of a community and community service.

Chief Lovell:
My mom had a daycare center at our home when I was a kid too. She worked in the home for a long time, but she worked outside too, worked two jobs a lot, but she was like the neighborhood daycare mom. I remember just her commitment to service. There'd be times where people would be having hard times and maybe couldn't pay. My mom was like, "Oh, don't worry about it, you need to work. Just bring your kid over and we'll figure it out later," kind of thing. They're both just really committed to helping people, and I think that's where I get it from. Ever since I was 12 years old, I think I feel like I've been in some type of service to people.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
We're sitting in your office today and you hung a replica of our badge, it says, "Public servant," that you had made. What made you make that?

Chief Lovell:
Yeah, that was one of the first things I wanted when I got promoted to chief. Most people would be like, "Oh, I'm the chief, I'll get something that says chief on it," or this chief stuff. I don't look at it that way. To me, we're all public servants.

Chief Lovell:
When I got hired, I raised my hand to come serve the public. It wasn't to be a chief or detective sergeant or lieutenant. It was to be a public servant. I think when I look at my job, it's through that lens, through that frame. It's not about what rank you hold or what position. It's about being a public servant and serving in whatever role. I'm the chief today and I won't be the chief forever. I'll be serving in some other capacity at some point in my life. I think about just the work that we do, I think that frame of just public servant and service is really important to keep at the forefront.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
What would you say to officers who are struggling maybe about staying here and wondering if it's worth it, wondering if maybe they should go somewhere else? We've had a lot of people retire and resign over the last 18 months. What would you say to the people that are still here and the people that we want to bring on? Why come to work for the Portland Police Bureau and why work for the Portland Police Bureau?

Chief Lovell:
Yeah. I think the first thing I would tell people that are here is, thank you. Thank you for the work you do every day. Thank you for continuing to be here. It has not been an easy time for police officers anywhere the last year and a half or so. I think it's important to look back and remember why you wanted this job in the first place.

Chief Lovell:
I think most people I talked to wanted this job because they wanted to have a meaningful impact, help people, help a community, make things better in some respect. I think there's no more important time to do that than right now. Right now I also believe we're turning a corner. I think we're coming into a time where people really feel the need for police officers. They feel the need for good policing. I think now more than ever is a time to really lean in and provide that service.

Chief Lovell:
I think we're coming around the corner to a much better place than we have been in the last year and a half. I would urge people to really reflect on what doing this job means and the impact that you can have doing it.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
On the flip side, what do you say to the people who work and live in Portland about some of the rising crime and some of the violence that we've been experiencing?

Chief Lovell:
Yeah. It's sad to see it. I think for me, I believe at the end of the day, we have a great city. We have a city with great people that care and they want to see the city be the best it can be. I think we're going through a time right now where there are some definite struggles. Shootings are way up, our homicides are higher than they've been, property crime. Some property crimes are on the rise.

Chief Lovell:
I think we're in a time now where we all want to see things get better. I think in order for that to happen, we all have to work together. The police bureau's now in a time where we've been given some support and we have to now start executing on how we turn that support into tangible bodies and things that are going to help the city improve. I also think at the same time, the police aren't the solution to all the problems in the city too. There's a lot of opportunity to really collaborate and figure out how we're going to fix some of the other things that are ailing the city. Like our homeless crisis, mental health services and things of that nature. I think it's an opportunity for everybody to lean in and see where they can fit in to help make those improvements.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Well, chief, today was just supposed to be a little conversation with you, give people some insight into the kind of person you are and your vision going forward. I know you've got other things to do. Your phone's beeping, your computer's beeping here, so we're going to let you go.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
We always ask one question here at the Talking Beat to end it and that is, what's your favorite kind of donut? We embrace our stereotypes.

Chief Lovell:
Oh, I'll have to go jelly-filled.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
No, jelly-filled?

Chief Lovell:
Yeah. Jelly-filled.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
It's so messy. You take a bite, it squirts out and then you got it on your uniform.

Chief Lovell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative) but it's still my favorite.

Terri Wallo-Strauss:
Okay. With that, thank you, chief.

Chief Lovell:
Yeah. Thank you. My pleasure.

Announcer:
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