Portland Police Chief Frank Clark is stepping down from his post to take a job in the private sector.

Clark, who was named Portland’s chief in 2019, said in an email to city staff on Friday that he had not been actively seeking a new position but had accepted a new job as a “global corporate security director.” He did not name the company.

Portland Police Chief Frank Clark is leaving to take a job in the private sector. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

He’s spent the past 33 years in the public sector.

“This all came together fairly quickly,” Clark said in his email. “I’m disappointed that the news got out ahead of me, as if things were to work out, I had planned on meeting with many of you, individually, before sending out a broader communication.”

The city said in a news release that Clark’s last day will be Nov. 1, and that Assistant Chief Heath Gorham will serve as acting chief beginning Nov. 2.

“I’d like to thank Chief Clark for his dedicated service to our community,” City Manager Jon Jennings said in a written statement. “Chief Clark has led the police department with the utmost professionalism and his long career of public service has served Portland and South Portland extremely well.

“While I’m sad to see Chief Clark go, I’m excited for him to lend his expertise in his new endeavor.”

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder also responded to the news with praise for Clark.

“I want to thank Chief Clark for his steady leadership and service to the city of Portland,” Snyder said in a statement. “His depth of experience and commitment to constant improvement have served our community well. While we will miss Chief Clark, I look forward to the interim leadership of Assistant Chief Heath Gorham.”

LATEST IN STRING OF DEPARTURES

Clark’s announced exit is the latest in a string of top-level departures from the city. And it comes as Portland’s Charter Commission is considering significant changes to the structure of local government, with members advocating for the elimination or demotion of the city manager position in favor of a stronger elected mayor and increasing citizen oversight of police. At least one member has advocated for defunding the police.

Jennings has accepted a position as the new city manager in Clearwater, Florida. His last day is expected to be Nov. 1 as well. Other departures include Portland Human Resources Director Gina Tapp and Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell. And Public Works Director Chris Branch is out on medical leave, according to the city.

Meanwhile, three city councilors – Nicholas Mavodones, Belinda Ray and Spencer Thibodeau – are not seeking re-election this year. And on Monday, Thibodeau stepped down from his council seat to take a job at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Clark was named Portland’s chief in July 2019, after Gov. Janet Mills named former chief Michael Sauschuck to be director of the Maine Department of Public Safety.

In a resignation letter sent to Jennings on Friday, Clark said it was an honor and privilege to serve Portland and work alongside some of the best police personnel in Maine.

“I appreciate your support of the department since my appointment and throughout what I believe has been the most challenging period for law enforcement and our communities in my nearly 33 years of public service,” Clark wrote.

Despite confidence in the current Portland Police Department staff, Clark said he was concerned about the ability of the department, and law enforcement in general, to recruit and retain officers and communications staff in the current job market and political climate.

“Lowering standards cannot be an option, so I encourage the city to continue to take proactive and progressive steps to attract, keep and train the highest caliber staff to fulfill these highly responsible and critically important roles for the city,” he said.

Before coming to Portland, Clark had served as a lieutenant in the South Portland Police Department since 2005.

He began his career in South Portland in 1988 as a patrolman, spent seven years as a narcotics officer with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency and was promoted to sergeant in 2002 after a three-year stint as a detective.

TENURE MARKED BY TURMOIL

Clark’s short tenure in Portland was marked by nationwide calls for police accountability in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer, and by an opioid epidemic that has only gotten worse during the pandemic. And in June 2020, the Portland Board of Education voted to remove police officers from public schools.

Less than a year after coming to Portland, Clark oversaw the police response to several Black Lives Matter protests. The Black Lives Matter movement arose as a response to repeated high-profile incidents of extreme violence or death being inflicted on Black Americans by police or vigilantes.

A protest on June 5, 2020, was attended by 500 to 1,000 people, officials have said. While the demonstration was mostly peaceful, police from several different departments wearing tactical gear used pepper spray balls to subdue late-night crowds that refused to disperse. Several businesses were burglarized or damaged, and more than 20 people were arrested, mostly for failing to disperse. Those charges were later dropped.

The City Council ordered an outside review of the response. The consultant, Frank Rudewicz, of Clifton Larson Allen LLP, ultimately determined that police respected the crowd’s First Amendment rights and demonstrated restraint as officers were being pelted with rocks and water bottles filled with urine.

An April report from the city’s Racial Equity Steering Committee, set up following last summer’s demonstrations, included recommendations for police training, oversight and accountability in Portland. Recommendations included changing how police respond to mental health crises, minimizing patrols through minority neighborhoods in favor of supporting community safety programs, enhanced screening of potential officers, better tracking for police conduct and a broader civilian oversight board.

In his email to city officials, which was sent a little after 1 p.m. Friday, Clark said that he had accepted his new position “literally minutes ago.” He said his new job would be with a growing company of over 5,000 employees worldwide, where he will be building and formalizing new security and safety programs.

“Although I wasn’t actually seeking alternative employment at the time this opportunity presented itself, after 33 years in the public sector, and knowing the solid team that exists here at 109 (Middle St., the Portland police station), it seems like a good time to try something both new and different,” Clark wrote.

Staff Writer Peter McGuire contributed to this report.


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