With a broad smile, she jokes, yes, her last name is really Outlaw! Ironically, this woman of grit and determination, is the Chief of Police in Portland, Oregon. Danielle Outlaw was born in 1975 in California. Her father worked for the department of transportation and her mother for AT&T. She attended Holy Names High School in Oakland Hills California.
Although taught respect for law enforcement growing up in East Oakland, California, she was also taught to run when she saw a police officer. When she was in middle school, Oakland police arrested her cousin. Outlaw was an only child, and her cousin was like a brother to her. "The police took away someone I loved very, very deeply for a very long time," she recalls. "You came and created a void in my life, and I don't like you because of it.”
This bitterness and perception changed when she was in high school. As part of a career exploration program she visited the Oakland Police Department and had the opportunity to do a ride along with officers. She says in a Ted Talk (below) that her person, the one who changed her perceptions forever, was Officer Tim Sanchez. He humanized the police force for her where previously she had thought it best to run whenever police approached, now she saw them as human beings, just like her.
Her family and friends were stunned when she chose a career in law enforcement.”No one was saying they wanted to be a police officer growing up," Outlaw says. "People were shocked. My dad told me flat out it was a waste of a degree.”
Danielle graduated from the University of San Francisco earning a BA in sociology and followed that up with a Masters of Business Administration from Pepperdine University. She is also a graduate of the Police Executive Research Forum Senior Management Institute of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs’ Association Police Executive Leadership Institute and the FBI National Executive Institute.
Her law enforcement career began in the Oakland Police Department in California. She rose through the ranks quickly and was soon Deputy Chief. Durning her twenty years of service there, she worked in various capacities within the department including patrol, community services, criminal investigation, internal affairs and the office of chief. She always believed communication was key and that softer skills could and should be developed to enrich communities and help to diffuse potentially dangerous situations. She also witnessed some of the worst police scandals in the country.
"When she started, OPD was close to, if not the worst department in the Bay Area, and there were a lot that were not good," says civil rights lawyer Jim Chanin, who made a career suing Oakland police and other law enforcement agencies.
"If you used force, you were admired. It must have been very hard to come up with any integrity at all."Chanin remembers Outlaw as a well-respected officer who worked up the ladder without a scandal. "Being a police officer is not an easy job, and it's even tougher for women," he says. "She had to struggle in that environment, and she did very well."
In 2017, Danielle Outlaw, was named Chief of Police in Portland, Oregon. Danielle Outlaw became the first African American woman to hold this position.There had been two other female chiefs in Portland before her, Penny Harrington and Rosie Sizer. Her crusade begun in California to change the perception of policing in its many facets continues in Oregon.
When she joined the force the City’s equity office released data that showed a quarter of the Portland’s officers were women and a quarter of officers identified as people of color. During her tenure in Portland she has stated that she hopes to change this statistic and make an impact in the department. She hopes to support both demographic diversity and diversity of thought within. A former friend and colleague from California describes her this way: "She's an Oakland girl—a straight talker, a straight shooter. That kind of leadership is a risk, but good leaders take risks.”
Portland colleagues have this opinion of her; Outlaw is a smart, careful, cops' cop who seems less interested in the kind of police reform her boss Wheeler campaigned on than in taking back control of the city's streets. In an interview she said "If we're getting involved where it's already jumped off, it's too late…At that point, all we have is force. We really don't want to use force if we don't need to. The best thing to do is be strategic and get ahead of it.”
At 42 years old and standing only 5 foot 4, she's younger and smaller than the average police chief. She keeps her long, meticulous braids pinned to her head while on duty, but off the clock, they fall nearly to her waist. Her arms are inked with tattoos: a Taoist symbol, a treble clef, and a quote from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Though she be but little, she is fierce.”
Chief Outlaw was the recipient of the Oakland Black Officers' Association Trailblazer Award, the Holy Names High School Alumnae Association Citation for Service and the 2015 Police Executive Research Forum, which also known as PERF, Gary P. Hayes Award.
Currently, Chief Outlaw serves as a Board Member of the Board of Directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Portland Metropolitan Area, a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Human and Civil Rights Committee and is also an active member of the National Organization of Black Law Executives. She continues to demonstrate her civic advocacy through Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated and The Links, Incorporated.
The following TedTalk gives us a closer look at this remarkable woman. Enjoy.