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Errors cry out for shooting probe

Our Opinion

Verbal flamethrowers were out in force Tuesday when the nationally known Rev. Jesse Jackson and City Commissioner Randy Leonard scorched Portland police for their latest fatal shooting of an unarmed man.

Jackson and Leonard both have a penchant for overstatement - and it therefore would be tempting to dismiss their comments as hyperbole. But here's the problem with simply ignoring their concerns: In this case, they aren't entirely wrong.

Jackson was, in fact, exactly correct when he noted that officers left Aaron Campbell on the ground for 30 minutes after he was shot on Jan. 29 before they approached him to see if he could be helped. And Leonard was just as accurate when he complained that police learned too little from a similar fatal shooting four years go - a case that cost the city $500,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.

Yes, it's true that Jackson definitely stepped over the line when he called the shooting an 'execution.' And Leonard's call for Police Chief Rosie Sizer to be replaced was not exactly helpful at this particular juncture.

Yet, the frustration expressed by these two men is reflective of the Portland public's dwindling patience with a police bureau that, in several high-profile cases, has failed to best protect human life and represent this city in the manner it expects.

Who will be accountable?

It is embarrassing for Portland to have the nation's attention focused on this latest shooting. And this city's citizens are openly wondering when someone in the police bureau will actually be held accountable for the lack of training, equipment and proper communication that can lead to such an inappropriate use of force and unnecessary death.

Sizer and Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman have called for an internal review of the Campbell case following a grand jury's decision not to indict the officer involved. Such an examination is needed, of course, but an internal review is not nearly enough. As the grand jury noted - even as it found no criminal wrongdoing - the police made critical errors that led to the shooting of Campbell.

That grand jury statement has heightened the public's concern that Portland police aren't taking the necessary corrective steps following cases that range from the death of mentally ill James Chasse Jr. in 2006, to the more recent close-range shooting of a 12-year-old girl, who was resisting arrest, with a beanbag round.

To begin to restore public confidence in a bureau that's had its credibility damaged, Sizer and Saltzman must immediately seek a truly independent investigation into the Campbell shooting. Oregon Attorney General John Kroger is the logical person to approach about conducting such an outside review.

Police must improve

We hope Kroger is willing to accept this assignment, but we also believe the police bureau must not wait to implement changes that have been discussed, but not always fully pursued. Saltzman this week said he wants to equip sergeants with ballistic shields that will allow them to safely approach suspects who've been shot, but who could yet be armed and perceived to be a possible threat.

Beyond making that overdue equipment purchase, police also must improve communication between officers at the scenes of these heated confrontations. This is another recommendation that's been advanced in the past, but not completely put into practice.

We realize that officers are incapable of reading the minds of people who ignore their commands - as has been the case in many of the these incidents. But it is unacceptable to think that a mentally ill or simply confused person should be killed just because he or she was unable to understand or respond fast enough to a police officer's command.

Portland's police must do better - and they must have the proper training, equipment and accountability to ensure that they do.