People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Power, Pouting, Posturing, Prejudice, and Principles of the Portland Police
Honesty is the Best Policy #1: Power to the "Union"
In several of the last issues of the Portland Police Association (PPA)'s newsletter, the Rap Sheet, officers made statements that were surprisingly frank.
Perhaps none was more honest than Rap Sheet editor Peter Simpson's September statement that "The PPA President is a politically important position that comes with a big stick."
Tracking the Cops' Complaints
In our last issue, we documented various repeat complaints by rank-and-file officers and sergeants in the Rap Sheet: Government is unsupportive, salaries are too low, media is biased, staffing levels are too low, etc. These past few months have seen more of the same, perhaps heightened by the recent elections for PPA officials.
To start, it's important for our readers to know one item that also appeared repeatedly: a law recently passed by the Oregon legislature allows law enforcement to make "safety issues" mandatory for bargaining . When you read more, you will see why it is important for the citizenry to be sure officers are talking about true workplace safety issues such as OSHA standards, and are not setting public policy around issues such as use of deadly force and discipline. The current contract expires in June, 2010, and negotiations are expected to begin in late 2009.
Starting off, let's hear from Officer Thomas Brennan, a candidate for PPA President who wrote in September that officers are "being subjected to use-of-force, performance, you-took-free-stuff, why-did-you-get-out-of-your-patrol-car, and you-used-a-potty-word review boards." He says the low morale is due in part to "nonsensical" policies set by management. "Going on patrol without support of current management is like going to war without an accordion," says Brennan. (This is a complete mangling of a Jed Babbin quote about going to war without the French being like going deer hunting without an accordion.) To his credit, when Brennan quotes Martin Luther King's statement that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," he knows that it is from the Letter from a Birmingham Jail. (It is also, ironically, etched into the facade of Portland's downtown police station.)
Part of what set Brennan off (this time) is that Chief Sizer was planning to implement an "optimal staffing plan" that would have restricted officers' ability to take days off. The plan was dropped when Commissioner Randy Leonard secured $500,000 for more overtime. Interestingly, Brennan says that had the plan gone through, there would have been more use of sick leave and more officer "'injuries'" Those are Brennan's "scare quotes," not ours--indicating he admits officers fake injuries to get out of work.
In October, Brennan criticized Chief Sizer, saying some people believe she is "working on a cure for cancer and has a comprehensive Middle East Peace plan." But he is angry that Sizer is ignoring the rank-and-file, not visiting roll calls, sending holiday cards, or visiting injured cops in the hospital, while she has time to be knighted by Royal Rosarians and co-chair the Racial Profiling Committee.
Officer Mike Stradley wrote a follow-up to his earlier article on why not to start a police career in Portland (PPR #45), noting he wasn't blaming the Chief, but rather "poor city government management" as well as "dysfunctional" city policies and relations with the state training board (September Rap Sheet). He suggests the City try setting up recruiting booths in places like Blazer games and military bases.
PPA Vice President Daryl Turner praised Commissioner Leonard's recent report (see article in this issue) for "expos[ing] several chinks in the armor of the PPB" on morale, staffing and recruitment (September Rap Sheet). He clarified this was not to "anoint" Leonard or "trying to throw Chief Sizer under the bus." Turner feels Sizer only brings in those who agree with her to make decisions, and questions her claims that officer morale is "fine."
--John Grable, one candidate for PPA President who lost to Sgt. Scott Westerman, claims that the new Use of Force policy is unacceptable to a majority of the PPA (September Rap Sheet).
--Sgt. Wayne Kuechler, running for Vice President of Sergeants, wants to end the Use of Force and Performance Review Boards, which he calls panels of "15 inquisitors" (October Rap Sheet). He says the "embarrassment and demeaning treatment of members subject to discipline needs to change"--despite the fact that these hearings happen behind closed doors and are not subject to public records laws (see p. 4 for news of the PPA's grievance over UFRBs).
--Outgoing President Robert King says reasons for the lack of new recruits in Portland include "the constant threats of lawsuits, the political pressures under which police agencies operate and the dangers of the work" (September).
--Retired Officer Pete Galluci, quoting the movie "Remember the Titans" in his article titled "Morale is a reflection of leadership," says officers are being reprimanded for doing a good job, and are "put in their place" when they complain of low morale (September).
--Noting such issues as benefits and incentive pay are more pressing, Officer Pete Taylor (another candidate for President) advised that the "right to free Slurpees at 7-11 is [not] the biggest issue facing our association" (October).
Honesty is the Best Policy #2: Cops Do Make "Mistakes"
Despite frequent noises from Portland officers about being disciplined for "just doing their jobs," Officer Pete Taylor admitted there are cases of misconduct: "In those very infrequent cases where an officer has made a mistake, I will expect correction to be made that is fair and healthy" (Rap Sheet, September 2008).
Copping an Attitude
Related to the officers' gripes is the overall attitude of officers toward the public and elected officials. Recent Rap Sheet pieces go in two directions.
To his credit, Det. Simpson ran an article in October by Bob Parsons, the CEO of "godaddy.com," who went on a ridealong in Phoenix. Parsons was taken by the fact that the officer he was with treated everyone with respect, and did not talk down to anyone, attracting "more flies with honey."
Similarly, in King's last column as President, he cautioned his successor, "In the political environment of Portland, we need to develop and maintain relationships with people and groups who have very different perspectives from our own...respectful diplomacy and compromise are necessary tools to be effective" (October). Sgt. Westerman seems on first blush to be taking this to heart, writing in his October pitch to be President "we need to maintain a professional relationship with the members, the citizens of Portland, management and the City Council." (As for people with mental illness killed by police, no such luck on Westerman: see Chasse article)
But then, Simpson ran some articles bringing these level-headed ideas into question. On the front page of the November Rap Sheet, retired Detective Kent Perry waxed poetic about his early days in the Bureau riding on Union Ave (now Martin Luther King Jr. Bv). "Only the toughest, meanest, don't-piss-me-off-or-I'll-kick-your-ass-into-the-middle-of-next-week cops worked 'the Avenue.'" Among the proactive activities Perry cites is "rousting whores" and "harassing the 'ladies' along Union Ave until they'd had enough and moved on." His article is actually a tribute to former PPB officer Rick Hegrenes, whose nickname was "Hand Grenades" because it sounds like his name but also "his slam-bam, balls-to-the-wall style of police work."
Perry also seems to fondly miss a tactic that he admits was discredited by causing too many deaths in custody: What he calls "application of the once venerated 'choke hold." He says Hegrenes would apply it to "the male half of family beefs," or to a "junkie" to get a dime bag from under his tongue. Perry says they rated the choke hold effective if the suspect "lost not only consciousness, but also bladder and bowel control as well." He recalls Hegrenes "clinging to some drunken low-life, riding him like a cowboy on a bucking bronco... until the hapless dirt-bag collapsed comatose, all the fight gone out of him, pants fouled (fragrantly). Yee hah!"
While denying that Hegrenes ever did so, Perry writes that some officers turn their lights on blocks behind someone to "encourage the driver to run" and start a car chase. One time when a 19- year-old led a high-speed chase and stopped, Hegrenes went to "yank the little maggot from the car" but the suspect took off again, eventually crashing. Hegrenes then went to "subdue the little puke. We probably tuned the kid up more than was absolutely necessary."
Low-life, maggot, puke: what good does it serve the Portland Police to have officers talking about citizens this way? It's one thing to have a Portland officer (albeit retired) in the Rap Sheet, but Simpson also ran pieces from outsiders with similar attitudes. In the October issue, Mary Mitchel, a conservative columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, wrote negatively about people marching to protest a police shooting, but "you didn't see people marching against armed thugs who killed" three drive-by victims in the same time period.
In that same issue, Dean Scoville of the LA Sheriff's Department wrote about protection against home invasion, praising an 11-year-old who killed an intruder with a shotgun: He "saved taxpayers the burden of paying for the prosecution... I'm not advocating the wholesale slaughter of burglars, ... I'm merely reminding you that dead men don't tell tales and they're not worth a damn at lawsuits, either." He refers to one criminal suspect as a "rude SOB" and advises those reading his column to "steal a page from dirt bags' home video surveillance systems" to identify who's coming to the door.
Honesty is the Best Policy #3: High Speed Chases Kill
In the November Rap Sheet, Sgt. Chris Davis of the Drugs and Vice Division straighforwardly reported that "Pursuits make for exciting television, but potential dangers...are tremendous." Davis noted that 200 people a year are killed in vehicle pursuits, 40% of whom are uninvolved bystanders, with cities paying out millions of dollars to victims or families.
More Signs of Racism in the Rap Sheet
There are subtle ways in which racism creeps into many conversations, and the Rap Sheet recently included several examples. In the October issue, Detective Lori Goodwin wrote a long rant against naming a street for César Chávez, saying that in general renaming streets spends "precious decision making time" and City money. She argues "Caesar Chavez [sic] is not a name I want to put on a sign. It is hard to say and difficult to spell and doesn't have much meaning." (Goodwin proves Chávez' name is difficult to spell by writing Caesar instead of César). She does say he was "probably a great man."
She encourages his supporters to get money together and "erect a golden statue of the man and place it in a park." If naming is so important, she says, let's name our kids "Mother Teresa, Pamela Anderson [!], Abraham Lincoln, Tiny Loco [?] or Jesus Christ... People I work with, Portland's domestic terrorists, they would angrily demand 'Tortilla Flats St' or 'Bloods Blvd.,'" or rename Kerby St after the Kerby Bloc Crips. In her opinion, the biggest street should be named "'God Street' in honor of the creator of the universe... I like God's justice--swift and accurate with no questions asked."
Goodwin adds, "Where does it end? Trey [sic] Arrow Avenue?" Other cities don't rename streets "to appease certain honorariums." Live the message, she says, don't waste Portland's money.
Blending in sexism, in an October front page piece complaining that Portland's Police chiefs have declined in effectiveness, Retired Captain James Harvey wrote that before the early 1990s, the emphasis was "on quality, rather than diversity." Since then, Portland has had four Chiefs, two who were African American and the current one, who is a woman.
Honesty is the Best Policy #4: History Shows Police Enforce Prejudices
Sgt. Wayne Kuechler, writing about racial profiling in the September Rap Sheet, expresses that he understands that eliminating bias is important. "Police have a unique power to unilaterally deny societal justice individually or collectively... I realize the use of some enforcement arm of government suppressed many groups for the first 180 or more years of our nation." While he argues that those days are long gone, it is refreshing to have an officer acknowledge these power imbalances and rights violations.
The Portland Police Association does not set policy. However, some PPA leadership and officers express negative attitudes toward citizens and civilian oversight in their newspaper. We worry these ideas may spread throughout Portland's ranks.
The Rap Sheet is available from the Portland Police Association. The PPA's website is www.ppavigil.org.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.