Mayor, police union spar over mention of 'systemic racism' in job posting

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and the police union are clashing over a statement in the police bureau’s recent job posting for a new chief of police.   

Wheeler launched the search for a new chief on Monday and encouraged current Chief Mike Marshman to apply for the position.

The job description mentions that the state of Oregon and the city of Portland “share a history of legally sanctioned systemic racism with legally enforced exclusionary practices.”

On Tuesday night, Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner released a statement decrying the wording in the job bulletin.

“Understandably, the verbiage and the tenor of the job posting left many in the rank and file angry and confused, as the clear implication from the posting is that the Police Bureau and its members have supported a racist culture in the City,” Turner wrote.

Wheeler responded with a statement of his own Wednesday morning, saying he’s never questioned the values and beliefs of Portland’s officers.

“I have tremendous respect for the hard work they do every day in the community. At a time that calls for a shared vision and unity of purpose regarding the future of the Portland Police Bureau, today’s letter from the Portland Police Association is needlessly inflammatory and divisive,” Wheeler said.

The Portland police union has said the majority of its members support Marshman and oppose the search for a new chief. 

Wheeler promised to conduct a national search during his campaign for mayor.

The search comes as the police bureau struggles with a staffing shortage, the controversial handling of large-scale protests, a recent officer-involved fatal shooting of a black teenager, and the adoption of policy, training and accountability reforms required under a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Marshman was placed on administrative leave earlier this year during an internal investigation into whether the chief asked a subordinate to sign him into a training he did not attend. Wheeler returned Marshman to duty in April after an investigation report found that Marshman did not violate the police bureau’s policies.

Marshman became Portland Police Chief in June 2016 after former Chief Larry O’Dea retired amid an investigation.

O’Dea shot his friend while on a hunting trip in April 2016, and reportedly misled investigators. 

Letter from Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner:

One Step Forward; Two Steps Back

Yesterday, the Mayor posted the job announcement for police chief candidates, which led with a statement about the "history of legally sanctioned systemic racism with legally enforced exclusionary practices" in the City. Understandably, the verbiage and the tenor of the job posting left many in the rank and file angry and confused, as the clear implication from the posting is that the Police Bureau and its members have supported a racist culture in the City.

On a day that has been set aside to recognize law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty for the safety and protection of others and a day dedicated to the 36th Annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service, not a single mention was made of the hard work, dedication, professionalism, and integrity that Portland Police Bureau rank and file bring to the job every day.

There was no mention of the PPB Behavioral Health Unit’s recent national recognition for their ground-breaking efforts in working with citizens with mental illness or in a mental health crisis.

There was no mention of the, still short staffed, Gang Enforcement Team whose hard work is evident in the 40% reduction of gang shootings from this time last year.

There was no mention of the fact that although patrol officers are taking more calls for service, detective caseloads have increased, and other specialty units have been decimated by staffing cuts, our communities are still getting the exceptional services they expect and deserve.

The Police Bureau continues to struggle with inadequate staffing and, despite the baggage left after the forced retirement of ex-Chief Larry O’Dea, Chief Marshman and his staff have managed to hold the Bureau together, raising morale, providing leadership, and ensuring stability.

The job announcement neglected to reference to the strength of our rank and file who work diligently to meet the changing and evolving needs of our diverse community, embrace community-policing concepts, and continue in steadfast dedication to build trust in all the communities we serve. The foundation of the Portland Police Bureau is the rank and file who are on the ground doing the work, 24/7; they have earned, at a minimum, honorable mention.

The first paragraph of the Mayor’s job posting shows blatant disregard for the decades of forward progress and is not representative of the Portland Police Bureau today. I urge our elected officials not to discount the relationships, partnerships, and friendships that our officers have built in our city. The job announcement does not accurately reflect our Police Bureau and its members. Certainly, it does nothing to aid in recruiting and retaining a police chief, let alone rank and file officers.

Daryl Turner, President

Response from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler:

Our city and state have a shared history of racial injustice, from our state's original constitution – which contained an exclusion law banning black people from living here – to the hardships faced by those in Vanport before and after the flood, to the disparate outcomes for people of color in our legal system. I have spoken about this shared history at length. I have never called into question the values and beliefs of our rank and file police officers. I have tremendous respect for the hard work they do every day in the community. At a time that calls for a shared vision and unity of purpose regarding the future of the Portland Police Bureau, today’s letter from the Portland Police Association is needlessly inflammatory and divisive. We are conducting a national search, fulfilling a commitment I made to the community last year. Anyone applying for the job should be fully aware of our state's history, and prepared to join me in ensuring that this history is just that... in the past.

_____

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

© 2017 KGW-TV


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