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Rapping Back #47:
Portland Copwatch member Dan Handelman analyzes the Police "Union" newsletter, the "Rap Sheet" for the People's Police Report

Growing Grumbling Gets Gendarmes to Give Gripes Up for Good Guidance?

Intermixing Police, Politics & Corporate Power=??

Articles in recent Rap Sheets have given insight into the political leanings of police, raising concerns in those places where police, politics, and corporations intertwine.

On the broadest scale, we have seen an uptick in the militarization of police since 9/11. In January's Rap Sheet, a statement from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) asserts that the events of 9/11 "fundamentally altered the traditional role of the law enforcement profession." The article cites the passage of the PATRIOT act, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to "confront the menace of terrorism." The piece is critical of the federal government for not coming up with a centralized plan to combat so-called terrorism, while pouring money into new programs and causing some hardships for traditional law enforcement tasks. However, their suggestion is to integrate law enforcement and homeland security, a move that will likely make the current hardships look like a picnic. People suspected of minor crimes will be branded as terrorists and immigrants will refuse to cooperate with local law enforcement as they fear deportation.

The IACP's overall suggestion may have promise: to create a Commission about the criminal justice system like the one created under President Johnson in the 1960s, involving all elements of criminal justice and stakeholders (hmm, you think suspects, convicts and their families will be included?).

Moving to the state level, the December Rap Sheet features a report from Oregon Council of Police Association (OCPA)'s Brian Delashmutt on the November elections. He reports that of 38 State Representatives and 9 State Senators endorsed by the OCPA, 36 won in the house and 7 in the senate. With Greg Matthews (D-Gresham, an officer for eight years before heading the Fire union) and Sheri Sprenger (R-Lebanon/Sweet Home, a former Sheriff's Deputy), there are five current or former law enforcement personnel in Oregon's 90-member legislature. Delashmutt notes that most labor issues will have a better chance to pass with the larger Democratic majority.

Conversely, a lengthy article from David Griffith of Police Magazine ponders the harm to law enforcement after the election of Democrat Barack Obama to the Presidency (February Rap Sheet). While Griffith concludes that Obama is a moderate on public safety issues, he cautions that Obama sees terrorism as a law enforcement, rather than a military issue. He also states that more liberal judges could mean an increase in the use of the "exclusionary rule" (excluding evidence obtained without a warrant), restrictions on the death penalty, and challenges to three strikes laws. All of this would, we think, increase police accountability and lower the number of people wrongfully imprisoned, but hey, we're cop-watchers, what do we know?

Taking it to the local level, the Portland Police Association has several business-related items that raised some concerns. The PPA's new website area for "members only" apparently includes "corporate discounts" (February Rap Sheet). A scholarship set up to honor Officer Mark Zylawy, who was killed in traffic while off-duty last year (PPR #44) will send students to private schools to prepare for college. Capt. Chris Uehara explains in February's Rap Sheet: Some "might miss the point of why we are funding this scholarship or think we have hidden agendas." It's not to recruit new cops, though that would be great, writes Uehara. Cops help strangers all the time, he says, and it is their selflessness that leads them to help others.

The two schools they picked, La Salle College Prep and De Lasalle N. Catholic High, are known for their commitment to education as well as a "reputation for working with local businesses and the community to help students achieve their full potential." So Uehara calls this scholarship the "Cutting edge of something unique: think about it, law enforcement agencies partnering with businesses and citizen who invest in educational opportunities for youth and their families who live in the neighborhoods we protect." I am thinking about it, and hoping that such scholarships can come from the education budget rather than law enforcement.

A specific example of corporations not-so-subtly infiltrating the police-public purview: A raffle at the PPA picnic for the scholarship that raised $220 was for a "nifty prize" from Extreme Products, a business run by Officer John Myers. An ad for the company in the December Rap Sheet shows thoughtful gift ideas like firearms and tactical gear, proudly proclaiming "Extreme Products is a Law Enforcement dealer for Glock and Smith & Wesson." What could that "nifty prize" have been that raised money to send kids to college prep?

Attitude and Morale, Turning Around?

In the past few Rapping Back columns, we have chronicled the moans and groans of the PPA citing "low morale." It appears there is a move afoot to turn that frown upside-down. New PPA President Scott Westerman said he was reluctant to read the Rap Sheet lately because of the negative tone (December issue). He reminded the members "This is a union publication that's distributed to the public and reflects on our entire membership," encouraging them to write about good work, bad management, and no personal attacks.

In another column (January issue) Westerman urged officers not to feed on the negative, acknowledging that when any officer engages in "some reprehensible act, it reflects on all of us, because we wear the same badge of authority." He also urged officers not to spread rumors after possible misconduct occurs, noting it can be "destructive." Westerman reminds his members that he advocates for them all, even if they are guilty, coming close to quoting Martin Luther King Jr.: "Injustice against one is injustice against all." He states that some officers are disciplined for the same thing others were praised for, but gives no examples.

Det. Jim Lawrence of the Cold Case squad, also encouraging a better attitude, apparently drew the attention of Independent Police Review Division Director Mary-Beth Baptista with his December piece promising only to write about good news in future Rap Sheets. Calling the newsletter a "gripe page," he reminded other members "Your managers, the City Council, news reporters, attorneys and all of our critics read the Rap Sheet."

In February, he reported that Baptista contacted him to call attention to the commendations for police listed in the IPR's quarterly newsletter, which excited Lawrence. The IPR's reports on "positive police contacts" included an officer praised for acting professionally at a traffic stop; another who settled a nervous woman's worries at a stop, and a mom and dad thanking the police for help with their "mentally ill son."

Lawrence cites Caralyne Sweeney, who is recruiting new officers, noting that the Bureau "can't hide the negative things associated with the Bureau and City" as they do outreach. He notes some things that new recruits should brace for in moving to Portland, including that "Political dissent is a way of life here."

But not all is rosy with the PPA (pun intended). In the January issue, Officer Rich Storm relates the tale of a friend who was excluded from a defensive tactics instruction course because "the Chief's office didn't want him to be in the class." Storm complains that morale is low because of incidents like this, but then hints at why Chief Rosie Sizer may have nixed his friend: "He might have received some complaints at another precinct, but" writes Storm, "when you work hard and get things done, you're going to get complaints."

Westerman's January column illustrates what he seems to think is the Bureau turning its back on Jason Sery (who shot and killed James Jahar Perez, resigned, and now works for Beaverton police) and Christopher Humphreys (who participated in the beating that killed James Chasse, then changed his story about whether he tackled Chasse). "Both officers have been crucified by some of the media, by some members of the public, and worst of all, publicly ignored and discarded by the administration." Westerman said both were respected, and were just "doing the job when something tragic happened." Westerman claims they were cleared by Grand Juries and "every level of oversight" though as of this writing, the final verdict on Humphreys in the Chasse case has not been publicized (see article on shootings in this issue). He pledges that "we will once again enjoy a time when it will be socially acceptable to praise the police publicly."

Contempt of Citizen, Accountability

While PPA members struggle to stay positive about the Bureau, they seem to still have no love lost for Council, leadership, or members of the public. Officer Rob Blanck, taking a stab at the lengthy hiring process that kept one applicant waiting 10 months to be accepted into the Bureau, wrote "I hope [the City Council will] bring back some common sense and put a stop to the vocal minority cop haters and ACLU lawyers who seem to have had open access to the Mayors' offices of the past" (February Rap Sheet). Blanck adds that his criticism is "not a whine for more pay or compensation. It's an outcry for a serious push for justice, and acknowledgment of a job well done and a sigh every time management second guesses our split- second decisions in the luxury of time and their plush chairs on the 15th floor."

Blanck complains about the fallout when an officer showed up at a "'cause du jour' protest downtown and failed to bring the required 'hat and bat.'" At the next roll call, all the cops had to show their equipment to the Sergeant. Boo hoo.

For his fellow officers, he has praise: "The warriors I serve with are an amazing band of siblings." They will drive toward a conflict "at mach 5 with that stupid grin on their face." They have a diversity of "shape, size, culture, religion, and mentality." Worried about Sizer's call for more dialogue, Blanck says "[I] believe in a little vitriol now and again" as a form of diversity.

While Blanck contends that the citizens of Portland are amazing, he excludes the "loud-mouth liberal ignoramuses who are all over the media clamoring to 'keep Portland weird."

In his special Christmas column (December), Blanck tells a story about a cop who walked up to two "gangsters," African American men with police records. The two were "unusually unarmed and without product" so were sent on their way. Two "Starbucks drinking young urban professionals" were upset at the cop for "harassing" the "hip hop youth--the parting shot was one that always amazes us--'why don't you go catch some real criminals?'" Blanck writes them off: "The yipping yuppies are clueless.... [it is a] mistake to assume what is known by us is known by them. [They] have likely never encountered any real evil in their lives." He claims their criticism proves police are doing a good job: "We have shielded them from the criminals so much that they can't recognize real wickedness passing by their well-groomed front yards." The problem, of course, is that the two men were not engaged in any criminal conduct and the "yuppies" were right; if those two men were trying to get on with their lives, they were stopped by police for no reason and it could just discourage them from thinking there's any reason to try living an honest life.

In what seems like a mixed message, a February piece by Det. Peter Simpson, editor of the Rap Sheet, quotes retired PPB member Dave Barrios cautioning officers about the downturn in the economy. "People who have never had police contact before... will resort to violence, drugs and otherwise irrational behavior." It seems Barrios is noting that the next person cops arrest could be the victim of the recession/depression; however, that ignores the economic conditions of those already locked into the criminal justice system. Barrios adds it will be hard on the police, and "We would all benefit by coming together." Does he mean we all need to support those who have nothing, or everyone has to help bring the heavy hand of the law down on those who use unconventional means to support themselves and their families?

Lovely Tidbits from the March Rap Sheet

--Det. Simpson complains that an officer who got a staph infection had his disability claim denied. "An 'independent' (hardy frickin' har) medical examiner stated that a police officer is at no greater risk than the general public." Simpson invites the disability board to "search some of the lowlifes under the Burnside bridge or along 82nd... I'm sure the 'general public' is at the same risk when they go to Starbucks.... as the police officer who physically handles these people."

--Lt Col Dave Grossman, director of the "Warrior Science Group," wrote more about the oft-used metaphor that police are sheepdogs protecting sheep (citizens) from the wolves (bad guys). He says sheep don't like the sheepdog, because he looks like the wolf. They would "prefer he didn't tell them where to go, give them traffic tickets or stand at the ready in our airport in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16."

--Dean Scoville of the LA Sheriff's Dept. urges officers not to worry about "taking the first punch." Relating a story of his own schoolyard fight, he says he told the other kid, "You hit me first," then expresses surprise: "The little asshole hauls off and nails me with a roundhouse." Scoville warns against the "Pernicious 'don't hit back' sophistries" from teachers, and warns officers not to hesitate.

Off-Duty Shooter Cop Ponders Random Acts of Violence

In the March Rap Sheet, Sgt. Greg Stewart wrote about actions called "Black Swans," a financial sector reference to unexpected occurrences people try explaining after the fact. Stewart uses the metaphor to criticize most people's reactions to police deadly force, saying humans can't accept randomness--"especially true of politicians, lawyers, and reporters." Stewart says people create stories to fit what happened. "By creating stories to explain the unexplainable, we create political pressure, which misdirects limited resources."

He laments the ban on the carotid (aka choke) hold after it caused deaths in Portland and elsewhere. "Unfortunately, some years later a mentally ill person was fighting with police, struggled too hard and died." It is unclear if he is referring to James Chasse or Dickie Dow.

Stewart is upset that they teach cops to communicate better, but don't evaluate scientifically whether tactics work. He dismisses the idea of looking for "best practices," saying the term was invented by lawyers to make suing easier and to enable "courtroom theatrics." He says that changing training and limiting tactics is making police work more "dangerous" and killing "DIVERSITY." Stewart says these changes are essentially "planning for the last incident." He should know, he stepped out of his front door while off duty and shot Jeffrey Turpin, who was in emotional crisis running around Scappoose with a gun in October, 2007 (PPR #43).

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, so we worry these ideas may spread throughout Portland's rank-and-file.

The Rap Sheet is available from the Portland Police Association. The PPA's website is www.ppavigil.org.

  People's Police Report

May, 2009
Also in PPR #47

Chief Sizer Releases Profiling Plan
Judge Allows Secret List to Continue
Misconduct Costs $7 Million in 17 Years
Auditor to Quit; Board Adds Work Groups
Lawsuit Challenges Anti-Camping Ordinance
Shootings Report: Cops Let Suspect Bleed
  Clackamas Craziness and Other Area Police Shootings
Quick Flashes PPR 47
  • Private Cops Up the Ante
  • Oakland Copwatch Formed After Transit Cop Kills Man
  • Atlanta Cops Sentenced for Killing 92-Year-Old in Raid
  • Don't Swear At, Photograph Cops Abroad
Legal Briefs PPR 47
  • Supreme Court Rulings Erode Civil Liberties
  • Sit/Lie: It's Legal, No It's Not!
Updates PPR 47
  • Help or Coercion for Prostitution Suspects?
  • Woman Attacked by Cops Over Bike Light Loses Case
Rapping Back #47

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

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