Some of Portland’s finest have lost their jobs or faced suspension after breaking laws, policies, or acting questionably. But regardless of the reasons for their firings, many of them are able to get these punishments reversed through arbitration, reducing public confidence in the department’s ethics and making it difficult for police commanders to dole out effective discipline.
The Oregonian reports that the latest reversal involved a cop who was fired for shooting an unarmed man in the back. Others include driving drunk, selling t-shirts that read “Smoke ‘Em, Don’t Choke ‘Em” T-shirts after a citizen died from a choke hold in custody, and leaving dead animals in front of black-owned businesses. All of these suspensions and firings were reversed.
The union, responsible for filing for arbitration in these cases says it only pursues reversals in cases where the reversal is truly justified. Others, however, aren’t convinced.
Not only does the officer get his job back, but he gets paid for any time he had been out of work.
Arbitrators are supposed to be an unbiased overseer of departmental discipline. But as the Oregonian points out, the arbitrators may be concerned a ruling against the union will cost them their position.
The number of cases challenged in arbitration is relatively small, only 12 cases in the past 10 years. But these cases are often the most high-profile. Perhaps these are challenged because police administration moves quickly (and perhaps sloppily) to dole out discipline when the public is aware of and involved in the case.
Union officials say this is partly true, that many serious cases don’t stand up in arbitration because they were “politically motivated.”
“I grant you, it’s not the perception of the public,” said Will Aitchison, former Portland Police Association lawyer, “but the fact is, it is very rare to find the city’s police union challenging a police termination.”
The public needs to be able to have confidence in the system. They need to know that when a cop shoots an unarmed person in the back, or when they have broken the law or even acted unprofessionally, that they will face consequences. When this doesn’t happen, the community loses what little respect they may have for the police in their community, leading to a further break down of police-citizen relations.
Cops aren’t always the nicest people, but they have rules and regulations that they must follow. Also, your rights must remain protected. When they step outside of those parameters, not only should they face discipline, but any criminal charges against you should be questioned.