Drunk driving, road rage incidents create a big PR headache
It must be awfully crowded in the Portland police Telephone Reporting Unit these days.
That is where officers arrested for driving under the influence are assigned while their cases are investigated. The most recent one is Randy Vanderhoof, a 19-year veteran who was arrested in Gladstone on Friday. Five other officers have been arrested for DUII over the past year, although one of them was on leave at the time.
Local anti-drunk driving advocates declined to condemn the officers who were caught, preferring instead to praise the ones who did their duty.
'MADD applauds the work of these police officers who have taken other officers unto custody for DUII. By removing these drivers from the roads, they are keeping our roads safe for everyone,' says Lynn Chiotti, a member of the Portland chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Statistically speaking, six officers may not seem like a lot. The Portland Police Bureau has more than 900 sworn personnel, after all. Six is slightly less than the national average of one DUII arrest for every 139 drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But the arrests are creating a public relations headache for Police Chief Mike Reese. After the most recent arrest, he directed the Bureau's Personnel Division to study alcohol-related issues in other police departments, as well as the general population.
'We are holding people accountable for breaking the law, and we expect our officers to make good decisions,' Reese said. 'At the same time, we realize that police work can create tremendous stress and a sense of isolation, which can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms.'
Reese also said the bureau will work with the Portland Police Association and the Police Alcohol Recovery Team to ensure that officers have access to counseling services and treatment. Like most other cities, Portland offers programs for reducing stress and dealing with psychological problems on a confidential basis to its employees.
Mayor Sam Adams, the city's police commissioner, called the officers' drunk-driving arrests 'beyond disappointing.'
'It's unacceptable and must stop,' Adams said. 'I will continue to work with Chief Reese, holding officers accountable and providing resources and education.'
It is too soon to know what the study will reveal. It is unclear whether alcoholism is greater among police than the general population. Some studies claim 25 percent of police are alcoholics, compared to 17 percent of the public. Other studies contradict that difference, however.
Unlike Portland, other police departments do not issue press releases when their officers are arrested for drunk driving, meaning reliable statistics are hard to come by. For example, only one Seattle Police Department employee - Sgt. Scott Moss, who was charged on April 3 - is known to have been arrested for DUII so far this year.
Public Information Officer Mark Jamison said there was no way for him to know if any other Seattle officers have been arrested for DUII this year.
The Portland arrests coincide with three highly publicized alleged road rage incidents by bureau personnel. Former Portland Police Association President Sgt. Scott Westerman was fired on Friday after an internal investigation into two 2010 road rage incidents. Sgt. Kyle Nice is being investigated for supposedly pulling a gun during a road rage incident in April. And Capt. Todd Wyatt, the former head of the Traffic Division, is being investigated by the Idaho State Police for an alleged road rage incident in August.
All of the bureau personnel were off-duty when the incidents occurred. Nevertheless, they have prompted Reese and Adams to say that such behavior will never be tolerated.
Here are the details of the DUII arrests of Portland police officers over the past year, beginning with the most recent ones:
• Randy Vanderhoof was arrested by a Gladstone police officer and a Clackamas County deputy sheriff on the evening of Sept. 9. A 9-1-1 call reported a drunk motorist in the area of Southeast Jennings Avenue and Oregon 99E in Gladstone. The officer and deputy found Vanderhoof asleep in his car on the side of the road. He failed a field sobriety test and was taken to the sheriff's office, where he was given a breath test and cited for DUII.
• Scott Sothern was arrested by a Tillamook County sheriff's deputy on the morning of Aug. 18. When the deputy attempted to pull him over, Sothern allegedly turned into a trailer park and shut off his lights. Sothern was charged with DUII, attempting to elude police, and endangering the life of his wife, who was a passenger in his vehicle, and a security guard who was on foot at the Cape Kiwanda RV Resort.
• Homero Reynaga was arrested by a Marion County sheriff's deputy just before midnight on July 23. He was cited for DUII after running into another car on Pennsylvania Avenue in Salem. Although Reynaga was not hurt, the other driver reported a cut on his leg.
• John Shandron was arrested by a Gresham police officer on the evening of Nov. 14, 2010. He was cited for DUII after crashing into another vehicle near Southeast Salquist Road and Orient.
• Joshua Sparks was arrested by a Washington State Patrol trooper late on the night of Nov. 6, 2010. Sparks was cited for DUII after being pulled over for driving 72 mph in a 60 mph zone.
• Scott Dunick was arrested for DUII on the morning of Sept. 9, 2010, by another Portland police officer. Dunick was stopped in the Gateway Transit Center, where the officer determined he was impaired. Dunick was on leave for undisclosed reasons at the time of his arrest.