Bad Sergeant

Jesse Cornett

When my neighbor popped his head out the door this weekend to tell me that he’s got my back if we ever have a burglar because he doesn’t think the police would show up to help, I realized that, perhaps, the message I’ve been trying to convey over recent days might have been muddled.

I believe the majority of police officers today are dedicated public servants. There are a few officers, however, that aren’t in the job for the right reasons.

In 2005 Portland Police Officer Leo Besner shot my closest friend in the back. It happened on my back porch and the gun he was holding that PPB continues to use as it’s sole justification for the murder belonged to me. The guilt I carry will never go away yet I know the officer who took the shot against his orders to not engage Raymond is of the latter brand of officer. My assertion isn’t based on the one incident involving my deceased friend but on an entire list of known victims. In addition to the shooting death of Ray Gwerder, Besner has been involved in at least the following incidents:

The day before Thanksgiving, Willamette Week reported that Officer Leo Besner was slated for promotion to Sergeant. In the days leading up to the promotion, the personnel decision actually garnered more media attention that either the shooting itself and settlement Portland agreed to with Raymond’s family, which at the time was the largest settlement in PPB’s history. I ended up smack dab in the middle of the media storm. I was the one willing to stand up and say that I thought Besner was a danger to Portland. He is.

Three days before the promotion I spoke to Chief Mike Reese. While I was initially happy that he was willing to engage on the issue, I was quickly dismayed when I realized that he simply wanted to explain why Besner would be promoted. He cited that Besner’s record was good. No seriously, he did. You see PPB Officers have no periodic performance reviews. None. Oh also, since anyone can file a tort claim, they don’t go into an officer’s record. Even when a jury believed that Officer Besner repeatedly punched Alex Clay in the groin, there was no transfer over to his “record.”

In promoting Besner, Police Chief Mike Reese erred in his decision to dismiss the critics of that decision as being ubiquitous and never satisfied. We are both limited in number and had a narrow focus. Reese’s quoting of President Theodore Roosevelt highlights an over simplicity and arrogance on his part. Just because all Portlanders don't carry a badge, doesn't mean we aren’t in the arena. Quite the contrary. Further, the Chief doesn’t seem to understand the importance of citizen input in our city.

Fortunately Mayor Sam Adams agreed to a last minute meeting with my wife and I on the eve of the promotion. After the meeting, the Mayor wasted no time in using the promotion as a catalyst for getting annual performance reviews of PPB Officers and ensuring that lawsuits relating to brutality are considered as a component of promotions. Sometimes there’s victory where few see it. I believe it’s the first time he’s publicly called for performance reviews and certainly the first time he's suggested cases of brutality have to be considered so I consider this a step in the right direction and hope in the current labor negotiations this goal is achieved.

So this is a blog post without an ending. A skirmish is over yet a violent officer gets promoted and his new post is over here in East Precinct where I live. We have a sentiment from the Mayor. Let’s hope we’ll see implementation.

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    Good post, Jesse. Thanks.

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    Let's all note the absence of the typical GOP attack dogs responding to this article. It is part of the fundamental GOP sales pitch that public employees are substandard and need to be reined in, yet faced with a cut and dried example of precisely such an instance, they are nowhere to be found.

    I find this always to be the case. The only people who actually ever do anything about the deficit are liberals. The only people who care to ensure that government actually is a benefit to the public (rather than a private piggy-bank to be looted) are liberals.

    I have my issues with Mayor Sam Adams, but he seems to have done something clearly good here.

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      But police officers aren't public employees, they are police officers and as such, can do no wrong. Didn't you get the memo?

      It is sad that the 99 are tainted by the 1, but that is the reality of the way the PPB is run.

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    I know that it is incumbent on anyone who says anything about the Portland Police to chant some variation of the "They're mostly good guys with just a few bad apples" qualifier, but I do what to point out that every time there is an incident at least half of the letters to the editor are from citizens standing up for the police, and never, ever from even a single officer standing up for the citizens. Never a letter or statement recognizing that it even matters to them if Portlanders are scared of their police force. Never once a letter from an officer or officers stating they think any other one ever did anything wrong.

    So, okay, maybe they are mostly good guys, but certainly not good enough to stand up for Portland on any issue that involves another cop. Certainly not good enough to stand up when one of their own is sent to the evidence room for pointing out a possible danger to citizens from another officer.

    For the whole of my life, from dead possums left on doorsteps, to "smoke 'em don't choke 'em" t-shirts, to unarmed after unarmed citizen shot, to the brutal beatings they used to give the homeless downtown when I was younger to the bloodlust at protests, to hanging Nazi plaques has any of these "majority good cops" ever been brave enough to find a voice and stand up for what is right.

    So yeah, most of them are good cops, but silent, voiceless, look the other way good cops. But I guess that's good enough.

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