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Veteran LAPD sergeant to serve as civilian dean of training for Portland Police

Thomas L. Datro said he wants to incorporate Portland residents into police training and strives to teach officers to be problem-solvers

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Mark Graves/The Oregonian

By Maxine Bernstein

PORTLAND, Ore. — Thomas L. Datro, a sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department who oversees police training there, has been selected by a Portland Police Bureau panel to serve as the bureau’s new civilian director of training.

The Police Bureau announced the selection internally and informed the U.S. Department of Justice and the city-hired compliance officer of its selection.

Datro has accepted the offer for the job but must pass a background check, police spokesperson Sgt. Kevin Allen confirmed Thursday. His annual salary has been set at $205,000. He was selected out of 18 applicants.

Datro, 51, has been a Los Angeles police officer for 19 years and five months. He has a master’s degree in public administration from California State University and a doctorate in education from the University of Southern California, according to his LinkedIn profile.

He said he will hang up his badge and wants to be seen as a community representative who brings law enforcement and academic experience to the newly created job at a time when trust in police locally and nationally is at its lowest ebb.

“I did that term of public service and would be transitioning to a civilian role,” he told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “But I also see the barriers, the traditions from the inside. I see the things police get stuck on. I can tell officers I stood on protest lines, and I chased people down dark alleys at 3 a.m. I think I can speak to all sides.”

Datro said he’s been involved in police training for half of his career but has led the Los Angeles department’s training for the past five years. He described himself as serving as the training understudy to the LA department’s civilian training and education director Luann Pannel since about 2009.

He hosts a podcast called “Policing in America,” billed as a discussion of race and policing, “the good, the bad and the ugly,” with the goal of pursuing “uncomfortable conversations to spark positive change.” Among some of the subjects of past episodes: “The Myth of Mass Incarceration, How Data Refutes Hyperbole,” “How do you lead when you’re in crises?” and “Defund the Police? Reframing the Conversation.”

He said he started the podcast in 2020 after he had been serving on protest lines talking to people following the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd, the Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer. “I felt this need to keep those conversations going,” he said. “I try to get anybody to come on, people who agree or disagree.”

Datro, who grew up on the south side of Chicago, said he’s excited to hang up his badge but continue influencing police as a civilian employee.

He said he wants Portland residents to be incorporated into the police training and strives to teach officers to be problem-solvers and think through their actions on the street.

For example, instead of officers shouting repeatedly for someone to drop a knife, Datro would have them consider that a person may be holding a knife because they feel threatened in some way, he said.

The officer should try to reduce that threat, he said, and react by thinking: “Let’s work on why you have the knife. If I’m making you scared, what can I do to reduce that fear.”

Datro most recently worked to create and provide training on the neuroscience of de-escalation tactics, emphasizing critical thinking, decision making, and leadership.

The selection of a civilian head of training is one of the steps the Police Bureau agreed to take to come back into compliance with the city’s settlement with the Justice Department.

The agreement followed a federal investigation that found Portland officers used excessive force against people with mental illness. It called for widespread changes to use-of-force and Taser policies, training, supervision and oversight, a restructuring of police crisis intervention services and quicker investigations into alleged police misconduct.

In April 2021, the Justice Department issued a formal notice to the city that it had failed to meet key reforms under the settlement, citing inappropriate police use and management of force during 2020′s racial justice protests, inadequate training and subpar supervision by higher-ups.

The Justice Department then outlined nine steps the city should take to meet the terms of the settlement, including appointing a civilian trainer to “ensure consistent and appropriate training.”

The selection panel included police officers, members of the chief’s office, civilian staff in the Police Bureau, staff from city commissioners’ offices, community members, Mary Claire Buckley, a civilian employee in the Police Bureau who oversees the bureau’s Office of Inspector General, and Deidre Houston Magee, who has been the civilian administrator for police training for New Orleans police since 2016. The Police Bureau said it developed interview questions with input from its community advisory groups, and the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing.

Jared Hager, an assistant U.S. attorney representing the Justice Department in the settlement case, didn’t comment specifically on Datro, but said the department supports the selection of a qualified, competent trainer.

Jason Renaud — a representative of the Mental Health Alliance, one of the advocacy groups approved as a friend of the court in the police settlement case , said the alliance asked to sit on the selection panel but wasn’t granted a spot.

“I suspect if you polled our members we would not have voted for a law enforcement person,” Renaud said.

He said the alliance hoped for someone with a doctorate degree who had experience with research on police training and development of curriculum. Renaud said the alliance is “ a little concerned” the person chosen is a veteran police officer from a major city department that’s had struggles with its own use of force by police.

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