This Tuesday news broke that complaints alleging misconduct by Portland police officers are going up. But the flip side did not make headlines: Portland cops are being fired this year at a rate unprecedented in recent history.
So far this year Chief Derrick Foxworth has fired three cops--the most in a calendar year since 2000. With three more proposed terminations in the pipeline and at least two other potential firings looming, Foxworth is on pace to set a calendar-year record since at least 1993, when four were fired. (The bureau does not keep termination records from before that year.)
Why the upsurge in pink slips? Hard to say for sure. Foxworth has quietly ratcheted up disciplinary and performance standards, cracking down on off-duty drunk driving and, in an unprecedented move, demoting several sergeants who did not meet expectations. But in general, the reason for the firings may simply be that lately more cops have flagrantly screwed up.
"I can't say what accounts for the number being higher than in past years," says Robert King of the Portland Police Association, local cops' union. But he adds that Foxworth, contrary to his reputation coming into the chief's job, has at times been willing to reduce discipline after hearing the officer's side of the story. "I appreciate that he's been receptive in some of these complex cases," King says.
Of the three firings this year, the most high-profile was that of former Capt. C.W. Jensen, accused of submitting bogus expense receipts for reimbursement and instructing a subordinate to do the same. That decision has been challenged by the commanding officers' union and may yet be overturned.
The two other firings this year were those of 13-year veterans Wayne Rickert and Fred White. Rickert was fired for unsatisfactory performance (another way of saying "laziness"), while White was fired for old-fashioned brutality and lying. As was described in the city Independent Police Review report released Tuesday, White kicked a man in the head for no reason as he knelt peacefully, being handcuffed--then claimed in his report the man "swung his head into my foot."
Not amused, White's two fellow officers turned him in, and the officers' union did not challenge his firing, or Rickert's.
Foxworth has proposed firing at least three other officers. Edgar O. Mitchell, a former school cop was in a car accident while driving drunk in April 2003, and in January he was sentenced to six days in jail and had his license suspended for 90 days. Richard Dodge reportedly faces termination for incompetence. And Bert Nederhiser was found to have fired his weapon improperly in an incident last winter.
Another officer who reportedly could be fired is Miguel Olmos, who was caught up in a internal bureau sting operation in which he failed to report finding marijuana and cash that detectives had planted in an abandoned car ("Cop Pot Sting," WW, May 12, 2004).
Another potential firing, that of Officer Liani Reyna, would be a more controversial case. She was recently placed on leave in part for her role in a law-enforcement love triangle. She allegedly confronted her Portland-cop-girlfriend's ex-flame--a Port of Portland cop--after having reportedly been told to stay away from her. Reyna has told colleagues she's been targeted for firing because in 2001 she blew the whistle on sexual harassment in the Special Emergency Reaction Team, or SERT, the bureau's equivalent to a SWAT team.