The Great Disconnect

Message from the Portland Police Association’s President Scott Westerman, from March 2010

Immediately after the Aaron Campbell shooting, Chief [Rosie] Sizer stood silent. The community was demanding answers and she stood silent.

There is an obvious disconnect between the public’s expectations of the police and the Police Bureau’s training. While this disconnect may not be growing as quickly as it was immediately following the incident, it certainly hasn’t diminished.

When Chief Sizer finally spoke, she spent most of her time sidestepping the issue. She called attention to herself and the things she’s accomplished since she’s been chief. She asked what people could expect of a bureau that doesn’t have a real training facility. She quoted statistics that show use of force and complaints are down. She continues to give the impression that she alone is responsible for those changes. She gives little acknowledgement to the men and women of the Police Bureau who are truly responsible for these changes.

Still, the most important missing piece is that she has yet to address the disconnect. The disconnect between our training and the public’s expectations. More importantly, the disconnect between the chief and the rank and file officers out there doing the job — the widest I’ve seen in my 21 years as a cop.

By the time of this writing, many of you have gone through In-Service training and had to listen to her blame everyone for the public outcry regarding that disconnect. She goes so far as to blame me, the PPA membership, the City Council and many others for the public scrutiny. Still, she sheds no light on herself. She is clinging to her job and is trying to make herself look better by blasting everyone around her. She tells rooms full of police officers that Mayor [Sam] Adams “is a mess,” Commissioner [Randy] Leonard is a “loose cannon with a grudge,” and Commissioner [Dan] Saltzman is the police commissioner “by default.”

According to the many officers I’ve spoken with who have heard her speak at In-Service, she appears to be trying to make it look like she is the only person protecting line officers from City Council and the public. The ironic thing is no one is calling her on it.

Considering the current mood of the Bureau, there are two logical reasons folks aren’t pushing back on her assertions. First, no one wants to get sent to TRU or be labeled a problem for speaking their mind. Second, no one much cares for what she has to say. It isn’t like she has a lot of credibility among the rank and fi le officers.

Going to In-Service to blame everyone else and take no responsibility for running this Bureau into the ground certainly doesn’t help with the credibility of the officers. I have spent a lot of time writing about issues the PPA has faced, mistakes I’ve made and the actions takes to correct those mistakes. I take full responsibility for the rally on City Hall back in November. I recognize the rally didn’t go over well in certain segments of our community.

The Chief wants to characterize the rally as a failure. On the contrary — the rally was a mechanism for our officers and their supporters to have their voices heard since Chief Sizer and Commissioner Saltzman were ignoring all aspects of the law, due process and were fully willing to throw another one of our officers under the bus. We are a labor organization. That rally was designed to unite our membership for a cause we believed in and still believe in. An injustice to one of us is an injustice to all of us.

We expressed our strength by letting the chief and commissioner know we will no longer sit idly by while they sacrifice another one of our members without so much as an investigation. It highlighted the complete and total disconnect between the chief’s office and the officers she is supposed to be leading.

When the budget proposal is made this month to City Council, Assistant Chief [Brian] Martinek will be the one making the presentation, not Chief Sizer. Some believe it isn’t coincidence as they believe Chief Sizer is grooming Martinek to be our next chief. Let’s imagine that for a moment. The City of Vancouver’s Police Department loathed him as their chief. There were discrimination lawsuits, allegations of retaliatory behavior by him and overall lack of trust in his ability to do the job.

Here in Portland, things aren’t much different. There are few, if any, line officers who have faith in his ability to do the job he has now let alone be the police chief. If you listen to him tell it, it’s only because he’s an outsider. I find that ironic since Chief [Mark] Kroeker was a complete outsider and had widespread support from the rank and file.

What this Bureau needs is a chief who can communicate; not just to the public, but to the officers as well. Someone who will listen to others and actually hear what they have to say. We need a chief who doesn’t believe he or she is the sole expert in every situation, but rather one who isn’t afraid to collaborate with
others to form a position.

We need a chief who doesn’t hide on the 15th floor and disappear from visibility so often that officers publicly announce they had a “Rosie sighting.”

We need a chief who doesn’t try to white wash “complicated” issues, but rather treats the officers with the respect they have earned doing this job.

We need a chief who will publicly support officers who act in good faith and follow their training.

We need a chief who is willing to meet with the community, not one-on-one, but in an open forum so the community can collectively give input to the chief on what matters to them. We need a chief who publicly acknowledge mistakes and doesn’t try to create revisionist history by later claiming the actions were merely “looking out for the best interests of the officer.”

We don’t have that in Chief Sizer or Assistant Chief Martinek.

READ – Randy Leonard was right: Portland Police Bureau needs new leadership, The Oregonian, April 23, 2010