EDITORIAL: Get Rid of the Portland Police Arbitration Rule – It Makes No Sense
November 19, 2010Now that Officer Ronald Frashour is fired, most people will think that is the end of the story. That’s because when most people are found to be derelict in their duty, to make bad decisions in a pinch, and to show no remorse when confronted by the facts – they stay fired.
But that’s not so when it comes to the Portland Police Department. And we at The Skanner News predict that, in the end, one individual will overturn the will of our elected city leader on this crucial issue.
We applauded when Mayor Sam Adams and Chief Mike Reese this week terminated Frashour for aiming at the back of a man in mental crisis and pulling the trigger, taking the life of Aaron Campbell, 25 – even though Campbell posed no risk to anyone, had not threatened anyone (except possibly himself) and in fact did not have a gun anywhere on his body.
One officer that night, James Quackenbush, should have been singled out for commendation, as he was the only one who established an effective rapport with the suicidal man and talked him out using text messages. The rest of the tragedy unfolded after Quackenbush’s exemplary job.
Past experience has shown that officers fired for killing or injuring civilians are generally put back on the force, with back pay, within six months; the Campbell killing constitutes the third such case we’ve heard about over the past 20 years.
The reason why police can’t be eliminated from the city payroll lies in the power held by the Portland Police Association union contract, which has for many years safeguarded the right to bring such cases before a state arbitrator for final judgment – after the Chief of Police and Police Commissioner have ruled to terminate an officer’s employment.
The first time an officer was ever fired for excessive force was in 1993, when Chief Charles Moose terminated Officer Douglas Erickson for shooting 22 times at Gerald F. Gratton Jr., who was running from a TriMet bus; Erickson was found to have “violated general orders,” which allow an officer to shoot only if they think their lives or the lives of others are imminently threatened. He was reinstated after arbitration.
More recently, Lt. Jeffrey Kaer shot Dennis Lamar Young, who in the middle of the night was passed out inside a car parked by Kaer’s sister’s house in an affluent neighborhood; Kaer said the man accelerated the car at him after being suddenly awakened. Mayor Tom Potter fired Kaer in 2006, but a state arbitrator gave him his job back two years later, with back pay.
Who’s to say these officers won’t violate the rules again? Is this accountability?
The rest of us, found to have shot an innocent man in the back and leaving him to die, would be in jail. The facts of this case – which are hotly disputed by the Portland Police Association, still insisting the officers “acted correctly” – are a perfect example of how badly police power can be abused.
The police union is constantly telling citizens that we can have no idea what officers go through every day on the streets – but these officers seem to be unaware of what it’s like to be a citizen at the mercy of an armed force that can shoot to kill without any penalty.
We want police officers answer to the same standards as the rest of us do – at the very least, if they’re fired, they should stay fired.
Without real penalties against consistently poor-performing police officers, there is no deterrent for continued violent acts against innocent people. The city should have the final word in throwing cops like Frashour off the taxpayers’ payroll. If you can’t do your job without screwing up, you need to go seek other employment.
Police have the power of life and death. We the citizens give them that power – but no one in city government seems to have the power to take a rogue officer’s job away. The city needs to get rid of that police arbitration rule; it makes no sense.
What do you think?
Read the Skanner News’ original article about the case, “Shot, Bitten, Cuffed: Crisis Negotiators Talked Aaron Campbell Out Before Shooting”