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Tuesday, May 4, 2004

The benefits have run out

Portland residents concerned about the recent police killing of an unarmed man 24 seconds into a pretext traffic stop: You can relax now. The editorial board of The Oregonian newspaper has declared the crisis over. Based on its viewing of the evidence of the public inquest, The O has decided that the officer who killed the man should be given "the benefit of the doubt."

From the tone of the Oregonian editorial, you would think the cop had damaged a squad car, rather than taking somebody's life: We all make mistakes. That's why they put erasers on pencils.

You know, I gave the Portland police the benefit of the doubt when they killed Kendra James. And when they killed Jose Mejia Poot. And when they maced and knocked the glass eye out of a boisterous 70-year-old blind woman a while back.

But you know what? I have run out of benefits for my doubts.

I'm also sickened by the O's spin on the events. They'll repeat their nice little story over and over now. The man was killed because he didn't follow police instructions. And he probably didn't follow instructions because he was too high on cocaine at the time.

Yeah, right. He was shot because he didn't take his hand out of his pocket. Or maybe it was when he started taking his hand out of his pocket. The police have told the story both ways in a very short time. And if he was wacked out of his mind on cocaine, how did he have the presence of mind to start swallowing bags of the stuff to try to conceal it?

Chief Foxworth has issued his own spin over the last few days: People are mad about the pretext stop. People are mad about the racial profiling.

Chief, you're right, but you're also missing an important point: People are mad about the overall meanness -- indeed, trigger happiness -- of your force. If they're as scared to do their jobs as these officers said they were, they're not fit to be carrying the Glocks.

Comments (25)

In all fairness Jack, Foxworth inherited a bureau that had a multitude of problems. And even though nobody will say we all know the only reason he has the job is because Vera thought it would help ease tensions in the black community after Kendra James.

I think Foxworth could be a great Police Chief, but he has just been thrust into a bad situation.

The whole pocket thing continues to bother me, because as the evidence shows, the only thing in his right-hand pocket was seven dollars in cash. Why would someone be struggling mightily to get at seven dollars in change?

There's only only upshot to the high muckity-mucks at The O declaring that Sery was justified: Maybe now people will start paying attention to Macomber, who's reckless decision-making as lead officer on the scene inevitably led to things going very, very wrong.

"change" = "cash"

By the way, if you haven't see it, KGW posted a pdf of an interview Sery did with detectves in which they discuss a previous incident wherein he nearly shot someone. The interview establishes at the beginning that they previously asked Sery about any other incidents in his past and he had not mentioned any.

Can any of us be surprised that Sery has been in this situation before, or that he lied about it? The pocket thing bugs me too. It's a lie used to promote the myth that they feared for their lives. And it's an obvious lie at that!

Foxworth can be a good chief. Put a muzzle on Robert King, and fire Sery and Macomber. We don't need their breed of cop in our city.

As for being thrust into a bad situation? It all depends on how he handles this situation which may determine that.

BTW Jack, well said!!!

I do not believe that the culture of the Police Bureau will change until the management of the Police Bureau changes it's dysfunctional relationship with the police union.

I have urged the Chief to take serious that concern I and others have of the adversarial relationship with the Police Association...only to be consistently "blown off" by Chief Foxworth.

If our community held the Chief and the elected official responsible for the actions of front line officers accountable, I predict we would see fundamental and positive changes not only in how the police bureau interacts with our community, we would also create "buy in" from the officers with the city leadership and our community.

Instead, we allow ourselves to be diverted by blaming the union and the officer involved in the most recent controversy.

The best way to make positive changes in an organization is to hold those at the top accountable for its performance. An organization cannot function at it's highest and most efficient capacity without an effective means for employees or their representatives to have a functional forum in which to discuss and resolve workplace issues.

No such forum exists-nor is contemplated-in the Police Bureau.

Until that systemic change occurs, look forward to more dysfunction.

You just earned a vote my friend!

I really wish the mayor would give herself a medical leave from the rigors of running the Bureau for the rest of her term. And I nominate Dan Saltzman to fill in until the new mayor takes over.

Did it ever occur to these officers or to their trainers that another option would have been to simply back away from the car and order Perez out of the car with his hands up, or simply back away from his car and call for the Swat team if they felt this was such a dangerous man? Sery had time to actually say "back away, I am going to shoot". It did not sound like an instant life or death situation to me.

Did it ever occur to these officers or to their trainers that another option would have been to simply back away from the car and order Perez out of the car with his hands up, or simply back away from his car and call for the Swat team if they felt this was such a dangerous man? Sery had time to actually say "back away, I am going to shoot". It did not sound like an instant life or death situation to me.

Portland police are not the only problem. Multnomah County police are just as abusive. I'm sure that anybody who is familiar with the inside of MCDC would describe how the guards physically abuse and sexually humiliate the inmates, particularly the estimated 1/3 of inmates who suffer from mental illness. It's no wonder that inmates prefer the local federal prison than MCDC. We all pay when these abused people get out.

The police are not the problem. The drug war is the problem. The crime that springs up all around it makes all of us spend a ton of money and all of vastly less "safe," while more than a few get rich and others of a few lose lives.

Beyond that, I'm not real interested in the discussion.

Will we ever get there?

Hey Randy,

Do you think it should be the job of the Mayor to be Police Chief in this city? If yes please explain why. And if not, can you say that should you be re-elected that you will bring this issue to the forefront and put the top bureau position in the hands of someone with police experience?

I would say you should bring it up now, but we all know that the current Mayor likes having the perks that come with being Commish.

well said Jack. The Oregonian's coverage of this is shameful.

I am an idiot...In reference to the post up there I mean the job of the mayor to be Police Commissioner

I agree with Sally's point on the drug war. Every time we empower government to use deadly force to stop something (whether it is the sale of drugs or the spread of communism - e.g., Vietnam) civil liberties will be necessarily eroded. This is because the process is messy and we can't always tell the "good guys" from the "bad guys".

I blame the officers involved in this shooting about as much as I blame former Sen. Bob Kerry for negligently killing civilians in Vietnam. When you are in a position where your life is at an unascertainable level of danger and you are granted legal authority to respond to certain levels of danger with deadly force, these things are bound to happen.

So long as we require officers to treat drug dealers as serious criminals, the risk to the officers enforcing drug laws is very high.

The NRA has a saying that when guns are outlawed only outlaws will carry guns. This is true of the drug trade as well.

As long as there are serious penalties for dealing drugs, the people who take that risk are often as likely to shoot an officer as peacefully submit to his authority and serve a decade in prison.

Let's all lobby the next mayor to break tradition and make Randy Leonard the police commissioner. I think with his fire department background he'd be the logical choice. Of course, it would be a major break from tradition for the mayor of this town to assign bureaus based on a persons experience.... the proud tradition of political punishment, that is.

I like Randy, but he's very much a police union man. That's evidenced by, among other things, his comment in this thread; and his recent statement in the Oregon League of Women Voters unofficial voter's pamphlet that the current police review board is working fine.

Of course, the $10,000 campaign contribution from the police union PAC may have influenced his positions, or vice versa.

Randy, do you also support kicking Robert King out as head of the union? He's every bit as damaging to the Bureau/union relationship as anyone else.

I agreee with B!X about Robert King as well. Does anyone know what the protocol is for relieving the union president of his duties?

B!X and Jack-
I make no decisions and take no positions based on who may or may not have supported me. I get your skepticism; however, I cannot control that. I could bore you with countless examples of my record where my supporters have felt betrayed by me, but you either believe me or you don't.

The broader point I want to make that expands on my earlier point is this....You can replace Robert King with a new PPA Presidents and Derrick Foxworth with new Police Chief's forever but the current dysfunctional dynamic within the Police Bureau will never change. The Police Bureau needs a systemic overhaul of it’s management system. No human being can survive under the current system for long….no matter what their qualities.

My last session in the Oregon Legislature (2001) I was a member of the Public Safety sub-committee on the Ways and Means Committee. Our sub-committee was responsible for the state police budget. The budget, as submitted by the Governor, called for the elimination of 33 state trooper positions. I was alarmed. Under questioning at the committee hearing, the Superintendent testified he had no other cuts to offer than the 33 trooper positions.

The Chair of the committee agreed to give me the opportunity to work on the budget for one month to see if I could find savings other than eliminating troopers. The one condition was that the total appropriation for the State Police could not change.

I told the Superintendent that he had to work collaboratively with the Troopers Assn. and I wanted them to return a consensus budget to me within 3 weeks.

The bottom line is I delivered a budget to the committee that restored the 33 trooper positions and added 50 more. I never, never would have been able to do that without the synergy that was created by having the union and the Superintendent working collaboratively together.

Read this article from the WW written at the time:

Last year we employed the same strategy at the 911 center of which I am responsible. In a collaborative process, labor and management developed a budget that eliminated a whole layer of management from the budget. 911 also, for the first time in the city's history, negotiated a collective bargaining agreement for the 911 dispatchers before the then current agreement had expired.

The management of the police bureau (that includes the Commissioner in Charge) has employed none of these basic labor relations techniques. The result? Poisoned relationships between the Police association and City Management. No disputes are settled in a cooperative fashion. Every contentious issue ends up in front of a judge or an arbitrator. The city and the union just concluded the longest interest arbitration in the history of public employee collective bargaining in Oregon at huge expense to the city and the association. I am convinced we could have had a reasonable settlement that would have served both sides well. However, the relationships on both sides are so bad that each side was itching to get to arbitration.

If the management of the city and the police bureau employed the strategies I am suggesting in their dealings with the police union we would then have a forum in which some of the fundamental criticisms of the police I read here and elsewhere could be discussed and, more importantly, resolved.

Changing union presidents and police chiefs will not get the culture of the police bureau to change. Changing the attitudes of people who work within the police bureau is the first step on the road to changing the culture of the police bureau....a must if we are going to get a handle on how the police interact with the public they are responsible to serve and protect.

I offered to Chief Foxworth and Mayor Katz to work with the bureau to set up the same kind of labor/management system as I created at the 911 center. As I said in my earlier posting, they have expressed no interest in doing so.

I am passionate about this for one reason and one reason only. I know it will work. I know from experience that the biggest beneficiaries of the police union and police management establishing a respectful relationship will be the public. We can turn an atmosphere of distrust and fear into one of mutual respect and hope. The community can then build on that to finally arrive at a place where our neighborhoods all are happy to see a police officer on their street.

*quickly marks ballot*

Count me in Randy

Wow. Impressive, Randy. That is actual leadership.


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