It's time for accountability for Portland police officers that kill

By Will Newman II of Canby, Oregon. Will is a community activist and describes himself as "particularly interested in food security and social equity." Last February, he contributed "Arrogance: What a parking ticket and Aaron Campbell have in common."

I want to clearly state that I understand the police have a very tough job. Let me also clearly state that most police, most of the time, do that job without significant problems, and without too much hassle on anybody"s part. In the process, they help keep order and provide actual security for most of us, most of the time.

But, at an increasingly frightening frequency, some Portland police officers have gone beyond simply carrying guns to killing people with them.

It is these officers who are destroying the police department and civil life in Portland.

Too strong a statement?

Think about this: each individual officer competed for the job. Each officer went through a battery of physical and psychological tests to get hired. After being hired, each officer received the training the Police Department determined is necessary to do the job. One might reasonably conclude that each officer is a professional, with training and experience sufficient to do the job.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that any action by a police officer that is unacceptable would be cause for discipline or termination, depending on the severity of the seriousness of the action.

And yet, people are being killed by police officers. Unarmed people. Citizens who are already in custody. Folks who have simply been stopped by officers without being suspected of breaking the law. And the officers involved face no serious discipline. The "justification" is often that the officer was "in fear for his life". The problem with that is of course that it is an extremely subjective evaluation, and absent any meaningful review is tacit permission to kill people who have done no wrong.

The citizens of Portland have tried, for at least 30 years that I know of, to get some kind of effective citizen review of police activity. It has not happened.

And citizens continue to die at the hands of Portland police.

Increasingly, the police are seen as the enemy. Unfortunately, if this trend is not addressed effectively, at some point the relationship between police and citizenry will go beyond a feeling of fear to one of occupation.

Perhaps it is time that the Portland Police were really held responsible for their actions.

      • (Show?)

        It's typical that on a left wing blog there is drum beat blaming police for every shooting that happens. The activists and civil libertarians start beating their drums about things they know little about.

        I worked as a mental health commitment investigator and crisis intervention specialist in two counties during my 30 plus years in the public mental health system in Oregon. When the police were on the scene, there was much less likelihood of violence. Police presence was always good at de-escalating things. Countless people have been kept safe by police intervention into mental health crises. The police were always happy to have me present and I was always happy to have them present. The notion that they are gun-happy killers is just wrong.

        The best way to reduce incidents of police shooting civilians is to support the police, support mental health, and support training and public education, not this attack on police with the implication that unless we hold them on a tight leash they are going to be a bunch of reckless killers.

        • (Show?)

          Thanks for the clarification of your statement. I'm absolutely in agreement with you in your below post about the epic problems that have been/are being caused by the dismantling of mental health services, and I think we would both agree that it is not an ideal situation to have police as first (and sometimes only) responders to people in mental health crises. I don't agree necessarily that "it's typical on a left-wing blog" to blame the police for every shooting that happens, but I know the type of people you're referring to, and I expect that they are a very small minority. I'm assuming that you don't care for that attitude, and neither do I; there are situations where force, even lethal, is not only justified but also necessary.

          My concern - and it may not apply to you - is that I often hear people saying "support the police", when their intent seems to be more towards "don't question the police". There seems to be this sort of backlash to the idea of police oversight and accountability that I don't fully understand, like people are conflating the concept of oversight with inquisition.

          Anyway, I think one of the situations that should be looked at when thinking about some of the officer involved shootings in the past year (specifically the cases of Jackie Collins and the homeless man out on 82nd) isn't so much about the discharging of the weapon itself, but more about why the involved officers ended up in situations where they were in enclosed areas that left them little freedom of movement. That could be a training or procedural issue that could help to prevent these situations.

          I can still say that I support the police after having suggested that, right?

        • (Show?)

          Is it necessary to bring political ideology into this discussion? Yes, there are some on the left who are quick to leap to attack the police in these circumstances. But there are people on the right who are quick to leap when judges (for example) give leniency to criminals.

          The important thing is that we discuss the issue with reason instead of falling back on hoary critiques about "typical" left-wing or right-wing behavior.

          I happen to agree with much of what you have said and I think you would be surprised how many "left-wingers" might also agree with you. But you lose me when you start turning this discussion into a more broad based attack on "left-wing" attitudes.

          • (Show?)

            The point is, I am a leftie, but the predictable anti-law enforcement posture of so many on the left causes many Americans to distrust progressives when they believe they won't support the police and are consistently holding police to blame when they are simply protecting themselves or other citizens.This post and the predictable comments on the site are good examples of how progressive people are out of touch with the real concerns of people and with the real life situations that law enforcement people face on the street.

  • (Show?)

    I've been following with some interest the descriptions and conditions present in many of the police related shootings and deaths in the Portland area. Most of them that have been in the media fall into the mental health/drug addiction category.

    The abandonment of many of the mentally ill under the guise of de-institutionalization beginning back to the 1960s and extending to our present time, has led to little access to psychiatric hospitalization for the acutely and chronically psychiatrically ill, and the funds that were supposed to create community alternatives were paltry and never arrived in sufficient supply.

    There has been a conspiracy of left and right, civil libertarians and right wing conservative social darwinists to abandon the mentally ill. The result of that has been decaying infrastruture, underfunding of residential and outpatient alternativees to the degree that now law enforcement- police and jails, are now the number one intervention and treatment resource for the mentally ill. The treatment of mental illness has no lobby except for the few engaged family members of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

    When I started out working in the public sector system of community mental health in the 70s there was an emphasis on outreach and prevention. Psychiatric hospitalization was accessible for all who needed it, through voluntary consent or through civil commitment. Today public psychiatric hospitalization is nearly impossible to find without a critical incident involving violence of some kind and only through involuntary commitment. And the emphasis in community mental health is on the economics of gate-keeping, keeping out all except the most critical who are "imminently dangerous to self or other." Those are the "Priority One" clients. Clinicians who do care end up coaching clients in what to say in order to get services. Those mentally ill clients who don't, or won't, receive services, end up often facing police confrontation and jail, acting out their illness in destructive ways, or degenerating into poor health, homelessness and helplessness, becoming themselves victims of crime.

    But the conspiracy continues. In this legislature and this U.S. Congressional session there will be fewer Medicaid funds, fewer treatment resources, and ever greater numbers of critical incidents that police have to confront. And the left will predictably decry the police use of force or violation of civil liberties, and the right will decry the presence of the mentally ill on the streets and insist they all be arrested and put in jail.Our politicians and agency heads will lack the courage to tell their constituencies the truth, that we are abandoning most of our mentally ill and waiting until they deteriorate enough for law enforcement to "clean up the mess." Meanwhile some people want to conduct witch hunts against "homicidal police gunslingers."

    • (Show?)

      It is not a witch hunt when unarmed people are shot in the back, stomped to death and having 26 rib breaks alnong with other broken bones, being shot to death in a mental health facility, just to name a few. One unnecessary death is too many.

  • (Show?)

    Let's not lose sight of the fact that the man who was shot and killed this week was threatening officers with a knife and these officers were called because he was threatening the life of a female security guard for the second time in less than a week.

    This kind of post, which treats law enforcement like the enemy, is wholly counterproductive to building a positive relationship between Portland police and the wider community, particularly communities of color.

    • (Show?)

      Does the article treat law enforcement like the enemy? I don't agree, but it seems you feel differently. Cool; we've all got different perspectives.

      The reason I'm responding to your comment, though, is because of the case you're referencing. Your argument pre-supposes that the security guard was calling during a period when she was in imminent danger. I'm sure that I haven't read all of the coverage, but from what I have read, it strikes me that the call was placed after the confrontation. I could be completely wrong on this, so please throw out some links if I'm being dumb. Regarding being threatened with a knife, I don't necessarily disagree with that argument, although I'd suggest that the idea of being "threatened" is subjective. What does that constitute, exactly? These officers found themselves in a close-quarter situation with a man with a knife, and I understand the reasons why that would require use of force (tasers first in this case). Why did they enter a confined space in this situation? It's an open question: I'm not accusing them of doing anything right or wrong. I'm just asking the question.

      This shooting really makes me think of the Jackie Collins situation, though, in the sense that a "relatively" harmless person was shot because they were advancing on the officer in close quarters. Why are these officers putting themselves in this situation? In the Jackie Collins case, the officer thought there was a victim involved; was this the case here? I don't have facts, so I'll wait to judge.

      As I've stated in my above comments, I'm not anti-cop (nevermind that it's sad that I feel the need to clarify that), but I think that it's important to question the procedures and processes of the police force. Anyway, thanks for participating in this conversation. I don't think it's counter-productive at all when we talk to each other about our beliefs.

  • (Show?)

    Sorry, a police officer was attacked and killed with his own weapon this week. A mentally disturbed person with a knife was threatening others. This column IS about an attack on Police Officers. Bill Ryan is 100% correct (it is a rare day indeed that we agree :-).

  • (Show?)

    Rare indeed, Kurt. However, I would like to think that my views are not so one dimensional that there isn't some confluence occasionally with others in your span on the spectrum.

    I happen to have had some years of experience of working with cops on the street and in residences where deranged people were threatening me and others, or themselves, with knives and guns. And it is pretty clear in those situations that given the choice between a civil libertarian and a tough cop, I'd rather have the tough, armed cop standing in my corner. They saved my life and the lives of innocent people many, many times when I was there, heart pounding and adrenalin rushing. And they were happy to have me there to work as a team trying to resolve a situation peacefully.

  • (Show?)

    There should be a near-automatic termination rule: a cop who uses lethal force will be fired UNLESS the cop can show that the use of lethal force was objectively justified by all the circumstances.

    Subjective belief shouldn't count when lethal force is involved. A cop makes a bad call that gets someone killed, the cop is off the force. Shoot someone because you think they MIGHT have a gun? You better be right about it.

  • (Show?)

    Bill I agree with you completely. Even with mainly opposing views, most people do not have one-dimension approaches to everything. I applaud your candor.

guest column

connect with blueoregon