People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Sizer's Sizeup: Portland's New Chief Deals with Death, Tattoos and a Visit from Copwatch
Chief Sizer's Response to Chasse Death: Blame the Mental Health System
Just like other officers, the DA, and the Medical Examiner, Chief Rosie Sizer's response to the first controversial death in police custody since she was named Chief in June--the death of James Chasse Jr.--was to call it an "accident" (see article). In an op-ed piece published in the October 25 Oregonian, Sizer asserts that a "full examination" determined it was the officers' "unintentional actions that killed [Chasse]." What is most disappointing about her repeating this assertion was that it was in the context of cautioning the news media and the public that "the actions of the officers should not be tried in the court of public opinion." In other words, she attempted to sway public opinion while asking the public not to make up their minds.
After encouraging us all to "focus on the larger picture," Sizer adopted the strategy of blaming the inadequacy of the mental health system in Portland and Multnomah County --even though Chasse's death was the result of police violence. She follows this by claiming "this isn't an attempt to shift the spotlight off the actions of the police." This is like a person who says, "I'm not a racist," then tells a racist joke (insert your own Kramer reference here). To her credit, Sizer did tell KGW-TV that "the discussion about use of force" was one of the "central issues" (October 25).
Sizer also shows bias when she refers to the officers involved as being "devastated" but describes the Chasse family as "bereft and angry." She excuses conflicting officer testimony by stating "it is not uncommon for officers (and other witnesses) involved in a critical incident to have varying memories of what occurred."
Maybe Sizer's worst mistake was asserting that "people who say they are outraged by violence threaten[ed] the lives of officers." When asked by KATU-2's Nick Winkler to elaborate on the threats, it became clear that Sizer was at best exaggerating the nature of flyers which had been posted with the officers' pictures which said "Stop me before I kill again." In fact, she told Channel 2: "In a high profile incident such as that, it often degenerates into death threats"; Winkler, asked, "but you haven't seen an actual death threat?" and Sizer replied, "not in this case" (October 25).
All in all, there were four deadly force incidents in the five months since Sizer permanently became Chief--the same number as in Foxworth's entire first year--and her responses leave us worried that her generally more open, listening nature goes out the window when it comes to shootings and deaths.
Sizer: Cops Can Have Tattoos, Not Ogle Women's
Chief Sizer was involved in two stories dealing with tattoos. In August, Sizer announced she was going to relax the standards guiding tattoos on officers. Noting that people dress differently now than they did 26 years ago ("when I was 21"), Sizer figures that allowing officers who have visible tattoos may expand their pool of applicants. She said that "offensive or unprofessional, racist or sexist" tattoos will not be allowed (Oregonian, August 22).
On the flip side of the equation, an officer who had women show him their underwear and private parts, checking one woman's tattoo three times, resigned and pleaded guilty to official misconduct (see article). Although the case, which began as a complaint to the Independent Police Review Division but was sent to detectives for a criminal investigation, was sealed by the officer's confession, Sizer expressed that "a system was in place and it obviously worked" (Portland Tribune online, November 13). The system may occasionally catch a sexual predator cop like this, but it continues to only weed out cops who lie, cheat and steal while officers who beat, electronically stun, and shoot citizens to death continue to get away with it.
Portland Copwatch Meets with Chief Sizer
As with three previous Chiefs who were installed since we started in 1992, Portland Copwatch sat down with Chief Sizer. The meeting was on September 11, 2006, just 6 days before Jim Chasse's death.
We asked her about a variety of issues, and she promised answers to a few. For instance, are citizens who sit on the Use of Force Review Board unwilling to be identified because they fear retaliation from (a) the public if they don't find an officer out of policy, or (b) from officers if they do? Also, now that she has her "top secret" clearance for sitting in on Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force meetings, can she publicly report how many times (if any) the Portland Officers with security clearance have been called in to participate?
As with the other chiefs, we asked Sizer to require officers to hand out business cards in any interaction with civilians. Like Chiefs Moose, Kroeker and Foxworth, she agreed to look into it. More promising was her indication that in-service training will soon include having officers identify themselves when they approach cars at traffic stops.
Chief Sizer was fairly firm against just two suggestions we made. One was that the officers giving
out warnings for the "sit/lie" ordinance should write down the perceived economic status of the
person being warned (see article
At PPR deadline we had not heard back from the Chief. If we do, her response will be posted on our website: www.portlandcopwatch.org .
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.