Police Union Polls Portlanders

From Willamette Week, December 22, 2009

Scott Westerman

Scott Westerman

The Portland police union’s push for better PR continues this month with a poll on public perception.

Sgt. Scott Westerman (see photo), head of the Portland Police Association, says the union paid for a poll of hundreds of Portland residents this month to learn their opinion on public safety.

“The PPA has hired a company to do polling of City of Portland residents to better communicate with our members the priorities the city of Portland has as it relates to police services,” Westerman says.

Westerman calls the poll part of a “long-term strategy” by the police union to better engage the public. The union hired Gallatin Public Affairs last fall to manage its PR campaign.

Details of the poll so far remain sketchy. Westerman declined to say how much the poll cost, calling it part of a package deal with Gallatin. And Gallatin partner Greg Peden said he could not provide details, including how many people were polled.

Peden said his firm hired New York-based Mercury Public Affairs to conduct the poll, and the results have not yet been released to the police union.

The poll and wider PR campaign come at a delicate time for the politically powerful union.

Cops say they’ve taken a battering in the media and from some activists over the 2006 in-custody death of James Chasse Jr as a civil trial between the city and Chasse’s family approaches. The trial was recently postponed from March to June.

The poll comes after the union won what some observers call a Pyrrhic victory in its recent stand-off with Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman and Chief Rosie Sizer.

By holding a massive rally and a no-confidence vote on Saltzman and Sizer — then agreeing to withhold the results — the union convinced Saltzman to back down from his decision to strip Officer Christopher Humphreys of his badge.

Humphreys, one of the officers involved in Chasse’s death, used a beanbag gun in November on a 12-year-old girl who was violently resisting arrest. The incident drew public criticism and may have increased rifts between citizens and the police union when its members rallied to Humphreys’ defense.