Law Enforcement is a Heady Business!

Jo Ann Hardesty

Law enforcement is a heady business. It may seem that, after years of performing this service, enforcers can fall sway to a belief that they are permitted to interpret their powerful role ... at the expense of what is actually legal.

Courts will soon entertain the charge that at least one guard at the Coffee Creek Correctional Institution used his position of power to obtain sexual favors while on the job.

While Marion County relieves its sheriff from command for intimidating a deputy, Oregon legislators once again consider relaxing rules so that the Multnomah County’s Sheriff can continue holding his position ... in the absence of a solid base of knowledge, and while avoiding performance requirements. 

People of color know how false ‘pretexts’ are employed so that police may unjustly interfere with their lives. This abuse pales in comparison with being sexually abused while confined to Coffee Creek, but the practice is based on the same over-extension of power. We all appreciate how the Portland Police Bureau regularly releases self-condemning data that proves they are engaged in race-based profiling. Of what value is this knowledge? Who is responsible for changing institutionalized racism? Who will enforce anti-discrimination laws?

Lost in the debate about law enforcers stretching their authority beyond the bounds of law, or commanders seeking a change in rules, is a discussion as to why regulators think rules to curb abuse or promote training are good ideas. Perhaps some realize that police work benefits from contemporary training ... and a thorough understanding of current best practices. The Plan to End Racial Profiling, being bandied about by Portland Police Commissioner Saltzman and Chief Sizer, relies heavily on training as a remedy to this historic and demeaning way some public servants treat people of color.

Community organizers believe in training. When informed by 'Know Your Rights Training’ (such as Oregon Action will offer again next Saturday) the community also seeks to enforce what is lawful, effective and warranted. Of what value is an educated citizenry, however, if racism remains structured in city conduct?

Commissioner Saltzman and Chief Sizer released their alleged plan to end racial profiling almost co-incidental to promoting Operation Cool-Down. One day they give lip service to combating racism. The next they brag about the success of a ‘Gang Enforcement Team’ crackdown that Officer Corno admitted was race-based in its execution. Is this a sign of schizophrenia or structural unwillingness to address racism in police practices? Even after the Chief has publicly adopted a definition of the illegal conduct, can it be that Portland just does not understand that some policemen and women are engaged in race-based policing?

Oregon Action leaders met with Mayor Adams last week to seek public involvement in Portland’s police-driven plan to eliminate racial profiling. The following day, Police Commissioner Saltzman, Human Rights Commissioner Fritz, our Mayor -- the whole council -- unanimously agreed to take millions of stimulus dollars for policing - with specific earmarks for gang-related enforcement - under emergency measures that preclude any debate. The absence of community discussion, while funding 'anti-gang' law enforcement programs, is an indication that the city doesn't get the connection between alienating an entire community and targeting specific violent elements who plague that community.

I invite community debate --so that we can get clear as to how anti-gang dollars affect communities afflicted by both gang violence and race-based policing. Has anti-gang funding silenced community-based organizations that were once in the conversation? Has moral outrage against racism been bought off with gang-fighting dollars?

Racial profiling in law enforcement is illegal. It is unconstitutional; it is against state law -- and even contrary to Portland Police Bureau operating procedures. Yet it continues without effective remedy. Proposed remedies are brought forward by city consultants and in community-wide listening sessions. And yet they are ignored. All means of citizen redress are neglected (and I include the Community Police Relations Committee, which remains silent regarding the community’s recent input on the Sizer/Saltzman plan).

Chief Sizer has graciously posted a summary report of their notes of our community's most recent response to the plan to end racial profiling. The city has once again documented our concerns that law-breaking officers be held accountable for their racist methods. We've responded to concerns, saying offending officers do not need to be identified by name. But we want to know that management knows which officers consistently abuse police power. We want data posted which tracks errant behavior by an identifying number.

And we want management to take corrective action. Imagine managing 4,000 employees without the tool of performance reviews. Training alone will never weed out intimidators and those who abuse their power. City Council holds that their contract with the union prevents the identification of, let alone the discipline of these errant officers. This is unacceptable. As talks begin for the 2010 renewal of the police union contract we are reminded that all personnel negotiations are always held behind closed doors.

When the police-sponsored plan to end racial profiling goes before City Council early next month, who will be heard? Will there be debate? Will the city suddenly come to appreciate how funding decisions and their failure to engage the police union perpetuates the crime of violating the people's civil rights?

We can shift the context of this conversation.

Social justice advocates need to speak more freely about law enforcement. This turf does not only belong to sheriffs, the police, commissioners and regulators.

How can we change the dialogue so that a person of color, being thrown up against a chain link fence -- sometimes even without a pretext of wrongdoing -- has standing when there is no probable cause that a crime is being committed?

By advocating that police actions adhere to Constitutional provisions (freedom from unwarranted search, provisions that citizens are to be secure in their possessions); would not a person who resists being rousted due to his skin color also be involved in law enforcement?

From the time of Chief Kroeker onward we have known that racial profiling actually inhibits criminal detection and prosecution. To her credit, Chief Sizer has issued reports which state that simply the perception of police misconduct reduces the quality of public cooperation. One flaw in race-based policing is that it becomes more difficult to secure leads and eventual witness testimony from a disenfranchised, victimized population of law-abiding citizens. Racial profiling makes police work less effective.

There will be a real reduction in crime (due to citizen cooperation) when and if policing is seen to be done lawfully. For this, lawbreaking officers need to be held accountable. If we all shared the perception that those among us who oppose the immoral, unethical and illegal practice of racial profiling have merit as Constitutional Law Enforcers, this would be a positive dynamic ... and not just for people of color, but other negatively affected groups like the homeless and mentally ill, for whom self-advocacy is a supreme challenge.

Let's fuse police training with an appreciation that laws bind us together for a moral purpose. Laws equitably enforced, without regard for positions of power or conditions of powerlessness, are crucial components of a just society. We must raise the status of those who have been abused and intimidated. The Mayor, Sheriff, Police Commissioner and union negotiators must learn to observe the rule of law, and not flex rules so that their power becomes the reference point for enforcement.

Let us replace abuse of power, cronyism and entrenched racism with real, substantive law enforcement. 

  • Joe Hill (unverified)

    At the very least and as a first step toward addressing these concerns, we need a serious citizen review board with a board that looks like the whole community.

  • AdmiralNaismith (unverified)

    The truth about police abuses. Very long, but worth it.

    I believe most police are dedicated to following the rules as well as enforcing them, and only a few bad apples go rogue. Of course, if it's even 1%, that's a LOT of bad cops. And when one of them targets you, who are you supposed to call for help?

    The one abuse that most or all police commit is...they cover up for their own. Most don't commit abuse, they don't approve of the abuse, they may even take steps to discipline the offender in blue within the department. But they won't go outside the department. And because of that, the few bad police know that they are not prosecutable, no matter what they do.

  • less is better (unverified)

    Any community or state that does not have a civilian review board with powers to suspend, investigate, terminate and prosecute police officers is a police state. It is that simple.

    Sounds like you live in a police state?

  • Raymond Carnation (unverified)

    [Off-topic comment removed. -editor]

  • Steve (unverified)

    "Let us replace abuse of power, cronyism and entrenched racism with real, substantive law enforcement."

    And you actually consulted Sam Adams for help? Zero credibilty - He exploits an 18-yo and hands out favors to the same developers all the time.

  • Demofan (unverified)

    The fact that cops are held to higher standards means they are racist? Where was Joann's outrage when spoiled rich kid lawyer Randy Richardson was convicted of ripping off an elderly African-American couple? Her successor in the legislature, Chip Shields, used his office to ask for leniency because Richardson was African-American, admitting he didn't know Richardson but that he deserved a break for the very reasons Joann claims here. The risk to the community of people of color is not the cops, it is the criminals and Joann has never been able to grasp that. PPB does not need more neutering. Let them so their jobs and protect Portland's most vulnerable citizens.

  • Joe White (unverified)

    Joe Hill wrote:

    "that looks like the whole community"

    What a prejudiced statement.

    Do all white people think alike?

    Do all black people think alike?

  • JJ (unverified)

    Oh my god, someone get this woman a band aid..her heart is bleeding all over my computer screen. I'm shocked, truly shocked to see another post here at BO attacking law enforcement and those who seek to put criminals behind bars as the "problem", while presenting lawbreakers and criminals as the true victims of the world. Whether it's an effort to strengthen penalties for violent criminals and sex offenders or to increase funding for our corrections system or now the police themselves, no component of the law enforcement system seems to be off limits from attack here. Jo Ann, have you even been outside any time in the past couple of years? Have you ever been to downtown Portland, or Old Town? Do you not see the streets littered with human trash, stammering and stumbling around, dealing drugs and disgracing this city we all call home? If you want to criticize the law enforcement system, criticize the fact that in Multnomah County, due to the fact the county and city would rather spend taxpayer money on kite festivals and bike paths, we have a catch and release program for these professional degenerates because we don't allocate the necessary funds to staff our jails...which still sit very much unoccupied. Forget police abuse..the only widespread abuse that's occurring here is an abuse by those in city and county government who fail to take even the most basic steps to protect the public and rid the city of this growing problem of highly visible criminal activity. I can't believe I would even need to state something so obvious, but apparently you need a reminder..police are not the problem, criminals are the your ire accordingly.

  • LaWanda (unverified)

    [Racist crap deleted. -editor.]

  • Jake Leander (unverified)

    The last four commenters have either never seen police misconduct or they don't care about such mistreatment. I'd wager these folks have complained of perceived government abuse of their tax money or their gun rights, though.

    It is not anti-law enforcement to insist that the rights of all people be respected. It is hypocritical to excuse those who enforce the law from adhering to the law. Review boards come and go, but it is rare that one has enough authority to stop abuses against disfavored minorities. In the 30 years I've been in Portland I've not seen an effective check on bad policing. Jo Ann and Dan Handelman should be applauded for their efforts in support of accountability, but misconduct by police remains largely tolerated.

  • mlw (unverified)

    It's a bit extreme to call it a police state when Oregon has the second lowest number of peace officers per capita in the entire US. Law enforcement, like any profession, has its share of bad apples. Like any profession, its practitioners don't want to think ill of their compatriots. Unlike most other professions, they put their lives on the line for us every day, literally putting their bodies between us and people who would do us harm, and trusting each other with their lives in the process. That doesn't give them any special privileges, but I think it should entitle them to some degree of deference to decisions made in the heat of the moment based on imperfect information. When an officer is charged by a raging subject with a knife, there's really not a heck of a lot of time to consider whether the individual is really out for blood or just a seriously mentally ill person having a bad day.

  • less is better (unverified)

    mlw, your views are certainly nice. My views are certainly counter to yours. Having a loaded pistol pointed at my head by a cop at 18 might have a certain influence.

    Now, as for the tragedy of the number of cops on the line that are killed, please, keep in mind that for every dead cop there are 8 innocent people (totally uninvolved in whatever got up the cop's butt) killed by cops with automatic weapons they arenot trained on how to fire correctly, inaccurate aim with the hand cannons they carry, or killed in high speed chases against the rules (you know like a 90 mph chase through family neighborhoods at the time children are going to school.)

    NO cop was drafted. All cops are addicted to a very potent bodily produced drug called adrenaline. ALL. Even the women.

    I lived in Oregon for a while and one of my asshole buddies was so proud that his bother in law was a lieutenant in the OSP. Later his bother in law was transferred to man the station in Lakeview,OR. When I asked what crime his bother in law had done, he refused to discuss it. When I asked his sister she told me that he was caught with several pounds of pot in the back of his police car while on duty.

    Gotta love them cops......Why Serpico was the last book or movie to admit that cops cover for criminal cops, ALWAYS.

  • mlw (unverified)

    Actually, the training standards peace officers for carrying weapons often far exceed those for military members. As for disarming them, that would be fine if we were to have a society like that in Britain, where firearms are extremely difficult for anyone to get and thus rare on the streets. Instead, we have a society that's so loose about gun ownership that Mexicans are smuggling weapons OUT of the country.

    As for your comments, I'm sure everyone has a "someone told me that..." story about the police. When I ask how many people actually read the reports on the incidents, had firsthand knowledge or spoke to someone with firsthand knowledge, it turns out that very few have. I find it hard to believe that OSP would do such a thing. In my experience with them, their main problem is tolerating mediocrity, not corruption. They receive the most political attention of any law enforcement agency in Oregon. It hasn't made them corrupt - it's made them excessively conventional.

    As for your assertion about adrenalin, there are certainly some of those out there. Far more often I find that the police are careful to use psychological testing to eliminate hotheads from the applicant pool. These days, they're looking for level headed folks who know how to de-escalate. It took my cousin several years to get into the Chicago PD. They thought he needed more maturity. And, frankly, he did. Good judgment.

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)

    Meanwhile, the death penalty still waits some of those who fall afoul of those in the "heady business."

  • Jake Leander (unverified)

    The problem with bad policing is the desire among some folks to exercise personal dominance. They would love to dominate everyone, but can get away with dominating those who are marginalized by society - including racial minorities. The problem persists because law enforcement unions and management support the bad cops and political leaders are not willing to stand up to them.

    <h2>I doubt that training can fix the problem. That would take screening out of psychologically unfit recruits, political will to make law enforcement respect everyone, and more balanced societal attitudes toward law enforcement and marginalized groups.</h2>

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