We thought we’d heard it all after WW reported last month that Officer Leo Besner was up for promotion to sergeant (see Murmurs, Nov. 24, 2010).
In his 16 years with the Police Bureau, Besner has cost the City of Portland more than $800,000 in lawsuits alleging brutality and other misconduct.
Friends and family of a man Besner fatally shot in 2005 wrote letters to Police Chief Mike Reese opposing Besner’s promotion. Portland Copwatch and other activists jumped on board.
Those critics followed proper channels to express valid concerns.
But Reese responded last week by painting police watchdogs as a bunch of petty, implacable whiners—earning him a well-deserved demotion to Rogue of the Week.
At a Dec. 9 ceremony promoting Besner and nine other cops, Reese closed his remarks by bringing up the Besner controversy.
“There will always be ubiquitous critics who are never satisfied with our work or with the Police Bureau. Remember, they are not representative of the community,” Reese said.
He concluded with what he called “a favorite passage by President Teddy Roosevelt that helps me keep my perspective”—from a speech Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne after his presidency, in 1910.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena...if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat,” Roosevelt said 100 years ago.
We understand the chief’s need to keep up morale among the troops.
But we’re talking about the sister of a man killed by Besner, and respected community members who have volunteered hundreds of hours to increasing police accountability. Calling them “ubiquitous critics” or “cold and timid souls” is tactless at best.
“It is an insult to the citizens of this city who stand up and say something is not right,” says Rev. T. Allen Bethel, president of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, a coalition of African-American pastors pushing for reform in the Police Bureau.
“As chief I continue to meet with and listen to our community partners,” Reese told WW by email. “I value their critical input, as I believe that this ongoing dialogue is one of the qualities that makes the Police Bureau an outstanding organization.”
The next time Reese channels Roosevelt, we’d suggest a different quote: “Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.”
Or better, one from long-dead British scholar Benjamin Whichcote: “None are so empty as those who are full of themselves.”