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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jefferson Smith Responds to My Concerns Over Police Union Endorsement

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, May 2, 2012 at 3:44 PM

In the expiring issue of the Mercury, my Hall Monitor column on what the Portland Police Association's endorsement of Jefferson Smith might mean for the mayor's race ended with an exhortation that "with ballots dropping in mere days, Smith needs to explain, and fast, why this endorsement won't keep him from remembering his obligation to the rest of the community, too."

Smith took me up on the offer, submitting a response to the column—specifically questions about officer discipline, contract talks, and the opening of cop-shooting grand jury transcripts (which are vitally important; they're a record of the typically closed process that the DA's office uses deciding to file criminal charges). I told Smith I'd run that response on Blogtown, and so here it is, edited a bit for length.

On the decision to challenge fired officer Ron Frashour's reinstatement:

First, on the Aaron Campbell tragedy. Before the endorsement, I stood with the mayor’s decision to turn over every stone given this set of facts. After the endorsement, I continue to stand with the mayor. The Police Association has a different view. I respect their view, and I hope they respect mine. Another candidate in this race and her surrogates [eds: that's Eileen Brady] have suggested that to get a political endorsement, I must have told a different story about my position on the Aaron Campbell tragedy. My position remains consistent, and I want to make that clear.

On releasing grand jury testimony:

The public deserves a full and fair accounting of cases that involve officer misconduct. Currently, in cases of officer-involved deaths, the police commissioner and the District Attorney are involved in the release of transcripts of testimony. I have discussed the matter with Rod Underhill, the unopposed candidate for District Attorney, and we both shared our hope and intention not to reverse field from the current practice.

My position has been and remains that the determination to open testimony must continue to be made on a case-by-case basis. I support the decision to open testimony in the Frashour case, and I believe there should be a heightened expectation of opening testimony in such cases. We both remain open to continuing the ongoing conversation with law enforcement partners and community members to ensure witness safety as well as appropriate transparency and accountability. There too, my position remains unchanged.

On how he'd shift the conversation on police training:

We need to support law enforcement leaders and community members who are working to strengthen Portland’s commitment to community policing. We need to embrace best practices around including more mental health expertise within law enforcement.

We need to look at training around deescalation and the use of force. In 2010, New York City saw 206,874 radio calls involving reports of weapons, [but discharged weapons] only 33 times, down 30 percent from the previous year. According to a senior official, training was key. Specifically, making sure that police officers arrive on the scene with a mindset to solve problems—not just to punish, arrest, or even merely enforce the law. We need to support the efforts within and beyond the police department to bolster the problem-solving culture. We need to use the opportunity of a new training facility to explore advanced training practices.

On why having a good relationship with the PPA (and other city unions) doesn't mean he won't be independent:

It will be hard work to bridge the gap between the community expectations, city leadership, and the law enforcement community. This will require independent judgment and a recognition that we are interdependent. This will require the hundreds of good police officers and community advocates working to end the cycle of violence. This will require including the communities of faith and organizations working to reduce youth violence and gang activity. Cultural change will not happen only through criticism or attack or sowing further seeds of division or encouraging different camps to circle the wagons.

That the Police Association joined with other workers who serve the city to endorse me—despite our differences and despite being the only major candidate who disagreed with the position of forcible removal of Occupy—should give us some hope. That because I start with some support of the law-enforcement community, and yet have deep roots in our diverse civilian community, I may be uniquely qualified to address a big need for our entire community: to build bridges and reduce the lack of trust between the police and too many of our citizens.

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