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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Decoding Saltzman's Oditorial

Posted by Matt Davis on Sat, Feb 20, 2010 at 6:45 PM

It's entitled "Repairing the Breach Starts Now." A few excerpts:

The letter from the Multnomah County grand jury, which offered a stinging criticism of the actions of the police that day, got it right. The question is, what will we do about it? Where do we go from here?
...

This is a difficult discussion made more so by the passions of the moment. The idea that Aaron Campbell was somehow responsible for his own death is offensive. No less offensive is the notion offered at one community meeting that this was some sort of "lynching" by police or that police "have the sole intent to kill somebody."
...

This shouldn't have happened — and to simply chalk it up to a bad chain of events would ignore the reality that there was a serious and inexcusable failure to communicate, which resulted in a young man's death.
...

I will continue to make aggressive changes. I have directed a top-to-bottom review of how the police communicate in incidents that could conceivably end in the use of deadly force — including an unsparing examination of the Campbell shooting along with disciplinary actions as appropriate.
...

A columnist for The Oregonian recently referred to me as "introverted." It is true I am not much for speeches or pounding the table. There has been more than enough of that. But do not mistake that for a lack of resolve. In the wake of Aaron Campbell's death, no words will suffice. In the quest for justice, it is by our deeds that we will be judged.

I've done some analysis after the jump.

That last part about not mistaking being "introverted" with being "resolved" seems eerily similar to the line Saltzman delivered at our recent Bus Project Brewhaha: "I'm dull, but I get things done."

Remember, Saltzman is up for reelection in May. Anna Griffin also described him as "exceedingly stiff" in another column, and our illustrators have taken to drawing him as a literal scapegoat. It was also hard not to cringe for the Commissioner's campaign staff the other day when the Reverend Jesse Jackson mocked him at the presser on the Campbell shooting. Saltzman said Officer Ron Frashour would be reassigned to "livability duties," and standing two feet from him, Jackson said: "You hear that title? Neighborhood livability. What a title. Neighborhood livability."

SALTZMAN: CERTAINLY TOOK HIS MEDICINE THIS WEEK
  • SALTZMAN: CERTAINLY TOOK HIS MEDICINE THIS WEEK

Saltzman, for his part, certainly seems to making all the right noises, and doing many of the right things in reaction to the shooting. His election opponent has made some grumbling noises about his approach, but as I have written recently, it's highly unlikely that the police commissioner will even be forced into a runoff come May.

But there's no mention of the police union in Saltzman's editorial, and it seems a fairly glaring ommission. I think one of the most insightful comments on all of this came on Friday from a Blogtown commenter, Blabby:

But I find this incredibly embarrassing for the city. Our Police Commissioner is throwing up his hands and writing a cry for help to the AG of the United States after trying... what exactly?

Saltzman hasn't attempted to initiate any discipline in the Campbell case. He's basically shrugging and saying "What can I do? I'm only the Police Commissioner."

In case anyone is still missing the subtext here:

The Mayor and Police Commissioner of Portland, Oregon need to call the Attorney General of the United States in D.C. in order to take on the local police union.


Indeed, there's a breach that needs healing, alright. Whether it's because our police commissioner is dull, introverted, stiff, or for some other reason. There's a breach that needs healing, and it starts with standing up to the police union.

I posted these thoughts in response to Blabby's comment on Friday, but I think they bear repeating in a post of their own. You'll remember that last year Commissioner Saltzman suspended an officer prior to discipline, prompting a 650-strong rally by the police union. Ultimately, Saltzman backed down. So Blabby is right that the "subtext" here is that Saltzman can't suspend an officer without the union crying "murder." Even in this case when the officer is being branded an "executioner" by one of two living Americans with his face on a postage stamp.

I would also remind readers that the Albina Ministerial Alliance supported Saltzman last year, when he originally suspended Officer Christopher Humphreys for shooting a 12-year-old girl with a beanbag shotgun. These are the same guys who were ultimately ignored by Saltzman, in favor of the union. So they decided to call in Jesse Jackson, this time around: The cop union rallied 650 last year, and Jackson rallied 1500 plus. It's a chess game.

Scott Westerman and the police union have of course been keeping a low profile this week. Westerman was at a breakfast on Thursday with Saltzman and the African American Alliance, and Joyce Harris from the AAA said Friday morning that Westerman had faced some "tough questions" from members of the Alliance. "Of course he represents the union and has a different perspective," Harris said.

I did ask Westerman on Tuesday whether he had made "I am Ron Frashour" t-shirts yet. He said yes, qualifying that they were only mocked up on the union's Facebook page, at this stage. I've noticed that some of the protesters over the Campbell Shooting have been responding to the "I am Chris Humphreys" t-shirts that the Union wore during that protest last year, for example:

1266441012-campbellfamily.jpg

With contract negotiations looming, it's now the union's move. Let's hope they make it a smart one, and whatever happens, let's hope the Police Commissioner has learned his lesson about how to parent the Portland Police Association. One thing is certain: He can't just ignore them, and hope they'll go away.

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