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Friday, November 6, 2009

Cop Union Boss: "Our Low Emotional Condition"

Posted by Matt Davis on Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 4:36 PM

Portland Police Association President Scott Westerman has a doozy of an editorial in this month's Rap Sheet, entitled Our Low Emotional Condition. The text is as follows:

Morale is defined by Merriam-Webster as the mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand; a sense of common purpose with respect to a group; the level of individual psychological well-being based on such factors as a sense of purpose and confidence in the future.

Many believe that a positive morale is something the PPA membership has been lacking for a while. While we have made strides in some areas, morale is clearly down in many other areas.

In recent months and weeks, more and more PPA members have expressed concern about the continued decline of morale in the bureau. In years past, low morale could typically be attributed to a single event or individual, and how we are affected by the negative impact of that event or individual. This time, it seems different. When talking with the membership, the reasons given for why they believe morale is low isn't focused on any one thing or person, but rather, a totality of circumstances.


Skipping to the more interesting paragraphs:
Negative publicity from recent, and not so recent, events has also taken its toll on morale. The fact that we are still dealing with the Chasse case three years later has clearly impacted how we feel about the job we do. The media has painted our members in a very negative light while the facts of the case show they were within policy.

For now, I think one of the biggest things missing from the Chasse case is the overwhelming lack of public support these officers have received. Sure, they've gotten private phone calls expressing concern and support from friends, family and members of the Bureau, but very little in the form of public support.

To give some perspective, let's look at the recent e-mail sent by Chief Sizer to the entire Police Bureau regarding an article written about Captain Mark Kruger. She said, "I'd like to clear the record internally, especially if you get asked questions by community members." She went on to say, "I would not have promoted Mark to Captain if I felt at any time the allegations were true. I supported him then and I support him now." Any time any member of the Portland Police Bureau is unfairly targeted by the media, this is the type of response we should get from the Chief. But one can't help but wonder, where was her public support for Officer Chris Humphreys, Officer Bret Burton and Sergeant Kyle Nice? Where is the email expressing her confidence in their ability to perform the jobs they have dedicated their lives to? They have been attacked and slandered in the media in not just one article, but countless dozens. Clearly, this has had a huge impact on morale from the rank and file.


Read the whole thing after the jump.

Morale is defined by Merriam-Webster as the mental and emotional condition (as of enthusiasm, confidence, or loyalty) of an individual or group with regard to the function or tasks at hand; a sense of common purpose with respect to a group; the level of individual psychological well-being based on such factors as a sense of purpose and confidence in the future.

Many believe that a positive morale is something the PPA membership has been lacking for a while. While we have made strides in some areas, morale is clearly down in many other areas.

In recent months and weeks, more and more PPA members have expressed concern about the continued decline of morale in the bureau. In years past, low morale could typically be attributed to a single event or individual, and how we are affected by the negative impact of that event or individual. This time, it seems different. When talking with the membership, the reasons given for why they believe morale is low isn't focused on any one thing or person, but rather, a totality of circumstances.

These are the circumstances our members most often name as contributing to low morale:

Starting off at the top of the list is the uncertainty of the future. We can't help but get inundated with comments that begin with, "In this economy..." After all, this was just what we were told when the Bureau decided to close two precincts. Just 18 to 24 months ago, the future was much brighter when we saw agencies like Seattle, Phoenix and other comparable cities receive double-digit pay increases. Since then, we've seen our comparable agencies take pay freezes, wage give backs, and even layoffs.

Second, SAP is doing its part in destroying any trust the membership had in the City. The premature implementation and the resulting thousands of errors on our paychecks has nearly every City employee believing SAP was a waste of $50million on the city's part. The problems with this system make the Water Bureau computer failure look like a bargain. Here we are four months after implementation and we are no closer to knowing how we've been paid and for what.

Negative publicity from recent, and not so recent, events has also taken its toll on morale. The fact that we are still dealing with the Chasse case three years later has clearly impacted how we feel about the job we do. The media has painted our members in a very negative light while the facts of the case show they were within policy.

For now, I think one of the biggest things missing from the Chasse case is the overwhelming lack of public support these officers have received. Sure, they've gotten private phone calls expressing concern and support from friends, family and members of the Bureau, but very little in the form of public support.

To give some perspective, let's look at the recent e-mail sent by Chief Sizer to the entire Police Bureau regarding an article written about Captain Mark Kruger. She said, "I'd like to clear the record internally, especially if you get asked questions by community members." She went on to say, "I would not have promoted Mark to Captain if I felt at any time the allegations were true. I supported him then and I support him now." Any time any member of the Portland Police Bureau is unfairly targeted by the media, this is the type of response we should get from the Chief. But one can't help but wonder, where was her public support for Officer Chris Humphreys, Officer Bret Burton and Sergeant Kyle Nice? Where is the email expressing her confidence in their ability to perform the jobs they have dedicated their lives to? They have been attacked and slandered in the media in not just one article, but countless dozens. Clearly, this has had a huge impact on morale from the rank and file.

Bureau-wide and precinct-level decisions are also taking their toll. I have been told on more than one occasion that officers are no longer writing reports in great detail to articulate the elements of the crime, but rather they are spending much more time and effort articulating exactly what they did and why, in order to avoid being subjected to intense scrutiny from command staff they believe are out of touch with reality. There appears to be a divide among command staff as to how events and actions are evaluated. On one hand, there are those who believe no two officers will approach a situation the same, and that any evaluation of the event or action should be viewed by the information the officer had at the time, and that there is a wide range of acceptable responses based on that information. On the other hand, it appears that some in command believe there is simply a right and a wrong way of doing things and that hindsight is the best way to evaluate the actions and responses of officers. The mere fact that there is this disparity among how events and actions are evaluated is enough to bring down morale, but it is compounded by officers who are being subjected to the performance review board because of inappropriate evaluations by some members of command.

Despite the negative impacts of these factors, the PPA is working to address these and other issues on behalf of its members.

For example, this year we have filed 27 grievances against the City for violations of our contract. Of those grievances, only four relate to discipline. The remaining 23 are a direct result of SAP and/or the PPA's objections to the decisions the City has made as it relates to our contract and the treatment of our members.

At the same time, the negotiating team and PPA Executive Board is working diligently to represent the needs and expectations of our members at the negotiating table with regard to our labor agreement with the city.

And finally, though we oftentimes completely disagree with the Chief's office on some of the issues discussed above, the PPA continues to have an open dialogue with those individuals in order to ensure our perspective and positions are understood. In some areas, I believe we've made significant strides in getting positive changes for our members. Some of those changes will take a while to realize once we've litigated, and won, the grievances we've filed.

So, while there are a number of circumstances that may be contributing to a decline in morale, I believe we have started to turn the page on these issues. We acknowledge the difficulties our members face in trying to maintain a positive mindset amid uncertainty, lack of support and disparity in command staff's approach to performance review. Yet we are resolute in affirming our support for our officers, in maintaining an avenue for communicating our point of view to the Chief's office, and in representing our members' interest at the negotiating table and in arbitration.

I want to encourage each of our members as they continue to serve this community. I believe the vast majority of this city's residents greatly appreciate the difficult job we do on their behalf. And we will continue to carry that message forth in coming months.

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