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KGW Carpool: Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw about life and work in the Rose City

The normally guarded chief opens up a bit to Brenda Braxton about race, culture, family and her future here.

In this KGW Carpool, get ready to see a different side of Portland's Police Chief.

Danielle Outlaw acknowledges she's usually "very private and very guarded" but I found her extremely candid on a whole host of subjects from motherhood to her future in the Rose City.

Outlaw is the first African American woman to lead the Police Bureau. She's two years into the job and we've covered her a lot. We've also covered how her officers have handled protests, use of force, staff shortages and more.

I didn't relitigate any of the Bureau's controversies on this ride. My intention was to learn something new about the Chief. I was particularly interested in her life out of uniform.

Watch the full interview here.

Might as well start at the beginning so I asked about her upbringing and the people and places that shaped who she is today. 

She took me back to her childhood in California, recalling being a mouthy 14-year-old whose single mother sent her to stay with her grandmother in Louisiana for a summer.

"I was now with family from New Orleans who weren't playin' none of that-- all this back talk and being flippant. Nipped that right in the bud. I think I came back a different teenager."

I wanted to know about her two college-age sons. Outlaw told me neither one plans to follow in her law enforcement footsteps.

"No, no, no. My oldest son wants to eventually be the general manager of a baseball team so he's going the business route. My youngest is an artsy kid. He wants to do all things performance arts. He wants to act, produce music-- you name it." 

When it comes to parenting she says she's the disciplinarian. "I'm the one that's stern but at the same time we have fun. We're all very close."

When she wants to unwind from the pressures of the job Outlaw, who loves to cook, says her perfect weekend would be “having a small group of people over and I've made a whole spread and I might sip on a little somethin' while I'm doin' it. I'll have my music on in the background and just hang out and chill." Her playlist includes Ego Ella May (YouTube that. I'm now a huge fan)... Neo soul, Hip Hop and 90's R&B.

Outlaw also got real about race and culture and how she's acclimating after moving from her hometown of Oakland.

"I had never been referred to as a 'diversity hire' in my life until I got here. And that's just me and I happen to be visible. I'm the Chief of Police. I have girlfriends here that are also 'firsts' and they're dealing with the same thing."

She goes on to say, "When I first got here there was this 'Oooooo she's a badass and her name is Outlaw, you know, and that's cool but that's not who I want to be remembered as. I want people to know I'm just a regular person. I'm approachable and that's important to me because I want people to know police officers are like that. When all you see is a uniform, when all you see is a badge and a gun, you forget there's a person--with feelings-- behind that."

Speaking of feelings, it's a mixed bag for the Chief as she wrestles with being a public figure who puts a premium on privacy.

"I like to completely cut it off. So when I'm out and about or I'm out having dinner and someone comes up to me and says 'Hi, you're Chief Outlaw.' I'll go, 'Nah.. I'm just Danielle.' Recently a colleague told me, 'You're always the Chief. You have to embrace it. You have to embrace the lifestyle that you're always on all the time. Your stress level will just drop completely.' I don't believe that 'cause I don't always wanna be on. I have a right to want to have my own private space." 

Still, she acknowledges that "for the most part when folks see me out and about it's all pleasant, all positive and those are the things at the end of a long day, or a very long week, that just recharge me and energize me."

So will she stay in Portland once her contract ends in a year? She muses about her options but also stressed she's "passionate" about her work and not burned out.

"We've accomplished a lot in the two years that I've been here. A lot and I'm really proud of that but I still think there's more to be done. I'm not finished."

Interesting conversation. Surprising. Funny. Blunt. Danielle Outlaw speaks her mind. I can't help but think she'll ruffle some feathers but she insists, "I don't think in those terms. I'm not walking on egg shells." She says this is her "lived experience." This is her "truth." She believes being able to listen to other people's stories is an opportunity to learn. And, as I said at the outset, that was my intention-- to learn something new about the Chief. I think you'll learn something, too.

Buckle up. Here. We. Go!

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