People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
The Portland Police Association (PPA)'s objections to the Bureau's Use of Force Review Boards (UFRBs), that the Boards act to "embarrass" officers in front of citizens (despite being closed to the public), violate procedure, and use improper evidence, will be moving to arbitration in October (July Rap Sheet). The cops' reluctance to have their most serious uses of force scrutinized for possible misconduct is echoed in numerous recent articles questioning not only the UFRBs, but the similarly toothless process of the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR).
By some strange twist of logic, Officer Rob Blanck used the term "Independent" in quotes in the June Rap Sheet. When we do so here at Portland Copwatch, it is because the IPR's investigations are entirely dependent on the Police Internal Affairs Division (IAD), since IPR has never conducted an investigation on their own. Furthermore, most of the people conducting intake interviews with citizen complainants are retired police officers. To Blanck, the IPR is not independent because, in his opinion, it "is managed by politicians, inexperienced community members and lawyers, not cops." Blanck points to the recent hiring of a defense attorney to the IPR staff, but ignores that the three other highest ranking members of IPR are two former prosecutors and a former police officer. In his mind, the "few" retired cops working there are "relegated to answering phone calls from internally encouraged, well-meaning citizens and some outright ignoramuses, antagonists and cop- haters."
Blanck blames the existence of the system on "Spineless politicians" and management who have listened too much to "Lies about our occupation from liberal leftist loudmouths [which] are accepted as a warped reality." Directly referencing the police beating death of James Chasse, Jr, he complains that police are "blamed for having the audacity to actually chase a criminal, fight with him, and, in the aftermath, joke with each other as the adrenaline dump courses through our bodies and our minds deal with the fact that we could have been killed."
Claiming that police should be left to judge their own, Blanck writes that "When one of our own goes bad we are our own harshest critics and become nauseous with disgust." In his worldview, officers "weed out the bad" so they know they can rely on one another. He says that lawyers, politicians and doctors are scrutinized by their peers‹not "Paul the pipe fitter," newspaper editors or "a community organizer who is particularly proficient at the game of Operation." So, he asks, why allow "oblivious outsiders or ancient associations to arbitrate our actions?" Able alliteration, but shoddy sentiment. He thinks police critics will "tear at the fabric of our organization and will adversely affect society."
According to Blanck, the fight over citizen oversight is lost (whoopee! we must have won something), but "I for one refuse to bow to their ridiculous findings or be judged by their deceived notion of truth (lies)."
Several recent columns by PPA President Scott Westerman concur with Blanck that cops will push out the worst among them. Explaining why the PPA will automatically assign a lawyer to a cop under investigation for an on-duty shooting but not an off-duty alleged crime, he uses an example of an officer accused of planting a gun. He says that kind of allegation makes the PPA's role "muddy," as it could be a false accusation or a "crooked cop no one wants in out department" (July Rap Sheet). Westerman defends his appearance at the court hearing of pervocop Joseph Wild (see article in this issue) by noting that officers need a human response, whether it's a DUII or "even sex crimes." Interestingly, the PPA is prohibited by law from telling one of its members if he or she is under criminal investigation.
In the May Rap Sheet, Westerman reminds officers not to go to Internal Affairs interviews or discussions with commanding officers without PPA representation, even if they are only witnesses. The main reason is that the PPA representative can prevent a "discrepancy in perspectives" between the Bureau's questions and the officer's answers. By "recognizing the discrepancy," and asking clarifying questions, the PPA can get "proper perspective" on the record (also known as inserting language to clear the officer of charges).
In an effort to encourage officers to cooperate with investigations, Westerman writes that detectives are trying to collect facts, "not predetermined to 'get someone.'" Innocent cops will be cleared, while guilty cops will have the facts presented. He urges respect and understanding for the investigators, who keep up the "integrity of our organization." Again echoing Blanck's "weeding out" comments, Westerman says that three categories of people with expectations of police‹the cops, command staff, and citizens‹all reject criminal behavior in the ranks (June Rap Sheet). "None tolerate procedural deficiencies that adversely impact the public trust," but they have different ideas about tactics.
Westerman notes that there is a fine line between "commend" and "condemn"; that some officers who take risks get medals while others are disciplined. The reasons are often "you placed yourself at a tactical disadvantage" or "you didn't fully anticipate the danger you placed yourself in." Westerman suggests the question is calculated risk vs. recklessness, noting that going into a burning building is "stupid" but firefighters do it, like officers approach armed subjects. Westerman ponders that management may treat cops differently based on who the officer is or what the outcome was, while in his mind what matters is good faith and intent.
PPA Secretary-Treasurer Dave Dobler warns the "troops" to keep out of trouble in the May Rap Sheet. He suggests that they be careful what they say, who they say it to, what they do, and when. If a member of the public overhears something an officer says even as a joke, it could be "misunderstood" and lead to a complaint at IPR.
Mark Schaffer laments the departure of Dobler's predecessor, Mitch Copp, from the PPA (May Rap Sheet). "My man Mitch" was the most ardent supporter of PPA members, including "officers who most likely screwed up... in Mitch's mind his fellow officers will always do the right thing and he will be there to vehemently defend them." Only overwhelming evidence convinces him otherwise.
It is not clear that the new management is any different. We hope that the sentiment that the rank- and-file will not tolerate criminal behavior is sincere, and that vehement defense of the indefensible will soon be a thing of the past.
Conflicts and Confluence: Police, Prosecutors and Private Powers
In our last issue, we called attention to the overlap of police, politics and corporate power. Recent issues of the Rap Sheet reinforce this idea and unintentionally raise the question of conflict of interest in the District Attorney's office. We have long stated that independent prosecutors should be used in police deadly force cases because the DA depends on police to prosecute crime on a daily basis. In June's Rap Sheet, there is an article about a "Guns-Gurney-Gavel golf tournament" involving the police, employees of the state forensic lab and... District Attorneys. Nothing like a cozy game of golf to ensure the DAs will be reluctant to prosecute police for on-duty use of force.
In a similar example, the sentiment is sweet: officers shaved their heads to raise money for medical treatment for the daughter of DA J.R. Ujifusa. Officer Blanck says the officers were shaved down to their "bare skulls"‹ouch! But the DA's thank you note didn't stop at thanking them for their generosity, instead going on to support Blanck's black-and-white version of the world: "in our jobs, we constantly come in contact with the evil and negative side of society" (April Rap Sheet). In another April article, Officer Mike Gallagher complains that when he testified for the defense in a Clackamas County Courthouse, he received a parking ticket on his cruiser even though other police got to park without paying. Apparently there is an "unwritten rule" for officers in Oregon City to use certain metered spaces, but Gallagher asks, how would a defense attorney know about that rule? In asking that, Gallagher exposes that the prosecutors and police probably would know about this special privilege.
In terms of corporate ties to public safety officers, the PPA reports that they recently had to cancel private contracts with Ross Dress for Less, Roseland Theatre and PSU Bookstore because Chief Sizer didn't like them working on "loss prevention." To her credit, the Chief prefers them working "closer to the public interest" at public and high profile events (June Rap Sheet). We still question the idea of people with more money paying for increased police services, but we applaud the Chief's efforts to at least create a clearer definition for these extra-duty jobs.
A few months ago we stumbled across information about the Citizens Police Retirement Committee, which is chaired by none other than Portland Business Alliance Vice President Mike Kuykendall, one of the biggest supporters of the Sit/Lie law (see article in this issue). Kuykendall's picture in the April Rap Sheet cemented our concerns about this corporate-police nexus, the board of which also includes John Hren, President of Portland Patrol, Inc., the private security firm hired by the PBA and favored by the City to engage in quasi-police functions. Other companies represented include Brown/Armstrong accounting, Advantis Credit Union and Financial Connections, LLC. These ties between private business and public safety appear to be traditional‹in June's Rap Sheet, retired Sergeant John Harp recalled being hired in 1946, when his Captain was the president of the St. John's Business Association. In the August issue, he reveals that to protect a crooked Tavern owner, the Captain bribed Harp to look the other way, and later squashed a criminal investigation.
Po-Pos Pooh-Pooh Precinct Plan
A topic raising controversy among the rank-and-file this spring was the consolidation of Portland's Police Precincts. Several articles were written complaining about the folding of Portland's North and SE Precincts, which went into effect in early June. In addition to safety concerns because more officers will be using fewer radio frequencies, and that Central Precinct now straddles the Willamette River, officers show an awareness of the City's hypocrisy in spending priorities. A few of the officers (including Sgt. Westerman, in April) called attention to big-ticket City proposals such as renovating a ball park to make a soccer stadium, building a convention hotel and constructing a 12-lane bridge. Rap Sheet Editor Peter Simpson even added that money could be going instead to "city streets, schools and mental health" (May).
Officer Gary Manougan claims that when he tried to raise concerns with the Chief's office, they told him that some of the problems would "take care of themselves" and "I don't want to hear it"‹an interesting point of solidarity we have with the PPA membership, that we believe the Chief makes too many decisions behind closed doors with no input (April Rap Sheet). Manougan theorizes that the move has to do with the Chief wanting more control over what happens in the precincts. On the other hand, we've already started getting complaints at Portland Copwatch that the harsh anti- homeless, supposedly anti-drug policies of downtown have expanded to the east side with Central Precinct's new boundaries now covering part of the area across the river. Efforts are underway to reverse this new trend.
Cops' Biases: Social Networking, Printed Words
Sgt. Simpson, in his June column, warns Portland officers to be careful about what they post on line. Referring to incidents in other cities that are documented in the April and June Rap Sheets where officers' comments on Myspace and Facebook led to harming their careers, Simpson reports that Portland defense attorneys are looking on line for incriminating statements made by cops. He cautions, if you "tazed" [sic] someone, don't write that you "made a guy ride the lightning and do the funky chicken last night."
Here's what happened in the other cities:
-A New York, officer's online comments led to a lesser conviction for a gun crime suspect because, for instance, he said that you will be disciplined for lightly punching someone, so you "might as well get your money's worth" (April Rap Sheet).
-In Washington, DC, as many as seven officers participated in a Facebook page for the "Make it Rain Foundation for Underprivileged Hos," apparently a reference to going onstage with strippers and throwing dollar bills up in the air (June Rap Sheet).
Yet Simpson doesn't seem to worry that attorneys might see articles he publishes that are anti- Muslim and anti-immigrant. In the August issue, two such pieces ran back-to back. The first, by David Stokes of Townhall.com, implores America to wake up and be aware of the "threat from within"which he says are Muslims who use "freedom and tolerance... as a cover for something more sinister, even deadly." He compares "Islamism" to Nazism, rejecting any connection to Judaism and Christianity. "Are Islamists today using our Bill of Rights as a weapon against us en route toward a nation governed by Muslims, Islam and Muslim law? The answer appears to be all too clear."
The second piece, by David Griffith of PoliceMag.com, criticizes the Obama administration for telling local sheriffs to back off from using a law passed in 1996 that allows local law enforcement to be trained in immigration law. To his credit, Griffith quotes studies that show most of those who have been deported were arrested for low-level offenses, and even admits he understands that local law enforcement needs immigrants to trust that the cops won't check immigration status, so police can get cooperation on criminal investigations. However, Griffith makes his position clear: "Maybe that poor illegal alien in Tennessee picked up for fishing without a license deserves some sympathy. ... But let's remember, he broke the law coming into the country in the first place. ... If they want to live in America, they need to obey our laws or go home."
What Makes Good Police Work?
As the Portland Police Association prepares to negotiate their new contract, which presumably takes effect in June 2010, Secretary-Treasurer Dobler urges fellow members to show the citizens of Portland "professionalism, experience and quality work product [that] is worthy of their on- going and increased support" (May Rap Sheet). He pledges not to let contract negotiations go sour as they have in other states, where some unions are "taking a beating over wildly unreasonable contract provisions." Aside from the odd image of police "taking a beating," we wonder whose proposals were unreasonable‹the cities, or the unions?
Other articles raise questions about the values of Portland Police. For example, in May's Rap Sheet, the personnel division announced it is creating a new website "joinportlandpolice.com" which they are hoping will feature the audio of a police chase in progress. Is the idea that being an officer is all about the excitement and adrenaline rush of high-speed chases, which are dangerous to officers, suspects and bystanders? Retired Officer Bob Gorgone reminisces about a night in 1995 when he and his partner heard about an argument and he said, "cool, maybe it's a carjack in progress or a good fight is about to kick off. Anything to break the numbing boredom of this never-ending night shift" (April Rap Sheet). We hope that officers would welcome the "boredom" of a crime-free city, just as we welcome weeks without complaints of police misconduct and Copwatch patrols when there is nothing for us to report about.
On the bright side, pseudonymous L.A. cop Jack Dunphy, usually a harsh anti-civilian commentator, takes an LA officer to task for kicking an alleged gang member in the head when he lay prone after running from a car chase in May (June Rap Sheet). Dunphy accused the Police Officers Association lawyer of "a stretch" in justifying the behavior. He criticizes the cop for endangering himself and other officers, and saying he should be willing to accept any punishment the Department doles out.
Maybe there is hope for change.
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 PPA's website is www.ppavigil.org.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.