Union Cop sez: Use-of-Force Review is unacceptable

Scott Westerman

Scott Westerman

Commentary by Scott Westerman, president of the Portland Police Association, published in The Rap Sheet, December 2008

I am proud and honored to have been elected to represent you as PPA president. I will be forever grateful to the countless number of members who took the time to engage others in conversation about the issues we face and the strengths I would bring to the PPA to help me address those issues. Without your involvement and support, I wouldn’t be here.

Before I get to the meat of my article, I would like to address the tone of The Rap Sheet. I, along with many others, have stopped reading it from cover to cover. This is due, mostly, to the negativity that has emerged. I want that to change. This paper is not a forum for personal attacks against Police Bureau employees, management, or PPA members. This is your union publication. However, distribution of The Rap Sheet reaches far beyond our membership. The Rap Sheet should highlight good work performed by PPA members. And articles should comment on, or protest specific management decisions, working conditions, or situations that affect any or all of us. This is what this paper is supposed to be about, not personal attacks. I ask that you offer solutions when complaining about a policy or decision. To be blunt, no one wants to hear only complaints, people want to hear solutions. Again, this is a union publication that is distributed to the public and reflects on our entire membership. Please keep that in mind when submitting articles for publication.

Now, on to the issues at hand. Mitch Copp and I, along with the Executive Board, have been working together to address the Use of Force and Performance Review Boards. I am sure you have already heard about the Executive Board’s decision regarding these boards. In December, I encouraged the
Executive Board to file a grievance over the Bureau’s use of these boards. In addition to voting to file the grievance, we unanimously voted to recommend that PPA members NOT appear before either of these boards until the many problematic aspects of them have been fully addressed.

This was not a decision I took lightly. I fully recognize the Bureau’s need to have transparency in regard to the use of force, especially deadly force by Portland Police officers. It is not my intent to prevent that from happening. However, the Bureau and the PPA simply disagree with the manner in which this transparency occurs. The Citizen’s Review Committee currently looks at all complaints against the police with names of the officer(s) and other information necessary to identify the exact incident redacted to allow them to focus solely on the actions and not the person or incident.

The PARC report also evaluated the Police Bureau’s past use of deadly force in a similar manner. I am not opposed to the Police Bureau conducting a similar review for all uses of force and performance reviews. This would allow them to have citizen input regarding training needs and performance issues.

I do oppose the calling of an officer to a board to answer questions that have already been answered three and sometimes four times earlier.

In an idealistic world, this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. But when our members are subjected to unprofessional questioning where the member is grilled, embarrassed or berated by members of these boards, it is unacceptable.

The Executive Board also considered the fact that the majority of officers who have appeared before these boards have felt they were presumed guilty prior to their appearance. This has been reiterated, however unintentionally, by command personnel who frequently mention that these boards are “in the best interest of the member” because it puts a face to the proposed discipline. For the members who have gone before these boards and have had their discipline reduced from what was originally proposed,

I would submit that the same “face” can, and has, been put on the person during the due process mitigation hearing with the police chief. Furthermore, many members have described these boards as “traumatizing.”

Again, I fully recognize the Bureau’s need for transparency, and I don’t believe it was ever the command staff’s intent to humiliate or embarrass our members. While this move by the PPA may be considered a line in the sand by some, I have every intention of working with, not against, the Bureau administration to find a suitable review process.

I encourage you to engage your PPA representative in discussion about these boards and any other issues important to you.

OUR COMMENT – any psychiatrists in the house?