| SHANGHAIED: Then-mayor-elect Sam Adams dishes the police bureau to Saltzman in 2008, as Chief Rosie Sizer looks on. |
Don’t bother looking for winners and losers in the recent dust-up between City Hall and the police union. Observers suggest both sides lost face heading into next year’s city elections and high-stakes police contract negotiations.
City Commissioner Dan Saltzman caved to pressure from the police union Nov. 30 by reinstating Officer Christopher Humphreys to desk duty pending investigation into Humphreys’ use of a beanbag gun against a 12-year-old girl who was violently resisting arrest (see “Reasonable Doubts,” WW, Nov. 25, 2009).
Saltzman had stripped Humphreys of his badge Nov. 19 during the investigation. But the union piled its full weight on Saltzman, rallying 650 cops and supporters for a Nov. 24 march on City Hall and holding a no-confidence vote against Saltzman and Police Chief Rosie Sizer. The union agreed not to release the results of the vote in exchange for Saltzman reinstating Humphreys.
The union then declared victory, saying in a news release it was happy Saltzman and Sizer “accepted our point of view.” Neither side would comment publicly on the outcome. But observers with long experience working with the police bureau say the union lost public trust by attacking Saltzman for cracking down on perceived police abuses.
“I don’t think they did themselves any favors with this community by taking such an aggressive stand,” says Charlie Makinney, liaison to the police bureau under former mayors Tom Potter and Vera Katz. “If anything, it appeals to a lot of anti-police attitudes in the community.”
If Saltzman and Sizer feared the results of the no-confidence vote, Makinney says losing might have actually boosted their credibility. Instead, the union now holds the vote results as a future trump card.
“I think what they’re going to do is wait and see what the outcome of the [Humphreys] investigation reveals,” says Potter, who served as police chief, mayor and police commissioner when he was mayor. “They’ve got this thing in their pocket, and if they don’t like it, they could release it.”
Potter declined to comment on Saltzman’s decision, saying he doesn’t want to second-guess the commissioner.
“The union did not release the data so they could use that as a force to change the commissioner’s mind,” Potter says. “And apparently it worked. It’s pretty black-and-white.”
Saltzman is expected to seek re-election to a fourth term next year, and his backpedaling on Humphreys may cost him support among voters seeking greater police accountability—especially after the 2006 death of James Chasse Jr. in custody. Humphreys was one of three officers involved in Chasse’s arrest, which opened the city up to a lawsuit from Chasse’s family, set for trial March 16.
“[Saltzman] had a lot of community support for this suspension of Humphreys,” says former state Rep. JoAnn Bowman (D-Portland). “He’s been quiet for so long. Any police misconduct, we’ve heard nothing from the police commissioner. So the one time he steps up, he backs down. For me that sends a very troubling message.”
Insiders note the police union could spend unlimited funds against Saltzman next year. And at least one potential contender may already be stepping into position to vie for the union’s support.
Real-estate broker Fred Stewart, who ran unsuccessfully for council in 2008, says Saltzman was wrong to suspend Humphreys when the officer was simply following his training. And like the police union, Stewart rails against Adams for lying about his 2005 sexual relationship with then-teenage legislative intern Beau Breedlove.
Besides the election, next year begins the city’s negotiations for a new contract with the 900-member police union. The union president, Sgt. Scott Westerman, tells WW the fight with Saltzman was never meant to gain leverage in the negotiations. Makinney concurs.
“I don’t think it will have any impact on negotiations except making the city more steadfast in opposing some things that the union wants,” Makinney says. “I don’t see it playing any role except to piss off Saltzman.”
As far as more immediate consequences, Humphreys’ reinstatement marks the second time in two years the city has seen police prevail over an elected commissioner.
Last year, Police Chief Rosie Sizer waged a months-long PR war against Commissioner Randy Leonard, who had designs to take over as police commissioner when Adams took office in January 2009. When Sizer threatened to resign, Adams gave the post to Saltzman instead.
Adams is only the third mayor in city history who’s declined to head the police bureau, after Neil Goldschmidt and Frank Ivancie. With City Hall and the police bureau in turmoil for 11 days, Adams played no role in Saltzman’s negotiations with the union.
Even Katz—Adams’ political mentor and former boss when she was mayor—says he should never have delegated the police bureau.
“I always told him I thought that was the mayor’s responsibility,” Katz says. “Somewhere, the expression goes, the buck has to stop at the head office. And the head office is the mayor’s office.”
FACT: The day after Saltzman reinstated Humphreys, Mental Health Association of Portland volunteer Jason Renaud announced he plans to run for Saltzman’s seat.