Has a grand jury ever indicted a Portland police officer for an on-duty shooting?
—Michael B., Portland
The answer to the question you’re ostensibly asking is no, “not in recent history,” according to police spokeswoman Mary Wheat.
However, I suspect that the question you’re really asking is more along the lines of “Are Portland cops trigger-happy sociopaths who routinely murder innocent citizens with impunity?”
Not an unreasonable thing to want to know; Portland cops have a pretty bad rap. Is it justified?
To find out, I ran down 2009 police-shooting stats for three mid-sized cities besides Portland. Then, for perspective, I looked up how many officers were fatally shot in the line of duty in those same cities in the past 30 years.
The idea was that cops who work a dangerous beat should have more leeway—their self-defense impulse is more justified. Conversely, cops in safer cities shouldn’t have to use deadly force as often. The ratio between cop deaths and suspect deaths should tell us something—nothing very scientific, but still, something.
Here’s the data: Minneapolis: 3 fatally shot suspects (in 2006), 5 fatally shot cops since 1980. Bloodthirst quotient: 0.60. Denver—4 shot suspects in 2009, 6 shot cops; BTQ: 0.66. Portland—2 shot suspects last year, 2 shot cops since 1980. BTQ: 1.00. Toledo, Ohio—5 shot suspects, 1 shot cop. BTQ: 5.00.
The Police Bureau was keen to have me tell you that Portland (in recent years, at least) has fewer police shootings than most other mid-sized cities, which is true. However, it’s also true that Portland is a relatively safe city in which to be a cop.
Conclusions: 1) Those who rail about deadly Portland cops should just rail about deadly cops in general—ours are about average. 2) Don’t run any red lights in Toledo.