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No confidence? No good outcome

Our Opinion

The Portland police union came out the winner this week in its showdown with Police Chief Rosie Sizer and police Commissioner Dan Saltzman, but citizens should wonder how well the cause of public safety was served by the unnecessary escalation of this conflict between union and management.

For sure, the Portland Police Association was doing what unions were created to do when its members closed ranks around Officer Christopher Humphreys, who came under heavy public criticism when he shot a 12-year-old girl, who was resisting arrest, in the leg with a beanbag round. The controversy surrounding the appropriateness of Humphreys' actions accelerated when Saltzman overruled Sizer's original decision to transfer the officer to a desk job while an investigation of the incident was conducted.

Saltzman chose instead to suspend the officer - with pay - until the investigation was completed. In hindsight, it's clear that Sizer's first response was the correct one - primarily because it would have allowed the process to move forward without additional distractions that came as a result of Saltzman's intervention.

But what came next was, in our view, a severe overreaction on the part of the union, which called for a no-confidence vote against Sizer and Saltzman. Such a vote hasn't occurred in Portland since 1981 - so in effect, the union was deploying the atomic bomb of labor relations.

A vote of no confidence would have undermined Sizer, in particular, and destroyed her chances for success in a job that has proven difficult enough for a number of very smart people over the years.

The no-confidence vote went forward, but its results will never be known because Saltzman and Sizer backed off on Monday and allowed Humphreys to remain in a desk job for the duration of the investigation.

This drama could have been avoided if both sides had held their fire and allowed due process to unfold.

If Humphreys, who also was a central figure in the 2006 James Chasse Jr. fatality case, acted outside the police bureau's rules, then he eventually will be punished. And if he didn't violate any laws or policies, then he and the union would have had ample opportunity to prove their case during the investigation and during any grievance process that followed.

But as it stands now, Portlanders are left with the impression that rank-and-file members of the police bureau were immediately willing to take down their chief in a display of solidarity - and worry about the public safety consequences later.

And that's where citizens just might lose some of their own confidence in the people they pay to protect them.