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Our Opinion: Frashour's training, not his job, the issue

Our hearts may be with Portland Mayor Sam Adams and others who want to persist in the fight to keep police officer Ron Frashour from returning to his job, but our heads tell us this is a losing battle.

Rather than continue to spend precious public dollars in a futile attempt to uphold Frashour’s dismissal from the Portland Police Bureau, Adams and other city leaders should focus instead on correcting underlying problems within the bureau that have contributed to an inordinate number of officer-involved shootings.

Frashour is the officer who made what most people view as a faulty decision to shoot an unarmed Aaron Campbell during a confusing and tense standoff outside a Northeast Portland apartment complex in January 2010. The case has already cost the city $2 million — including a $1.2 million settlement with Campbell’s family and $750,000 in other legal costs.

More significantly, of course, the shooting cost Campbell his life.

Yet, all of that human and financial carnage cannot be laid at the feet of one person. It’s also highly apparent that years of inadequate training in the police bureau contributed to Campbell’s death.

Frashour may not have shown appropriate restraint when he fired upon Campbell, but he did act within the bureau’s training guidelines. At least that’s the conclusion reached by outside authorities who’ve reviewed the Campbell/Frashour case. After Adams initially terminated Frashour’s employment, a city-selected arbitrator overturned that action, saying Frashour’s use of force was justified by the bureau’s policies. The arbitrator’s decision then was upheld by Oregon’s Employment Relations Board.

These labor rulings have frustrated Adams’ attempt to terminate Frashour’s employment. Now, Adams intends to appeal the employment board’s recent decision in court.

We don’t believe the shooting of Aaron Campbell was necessary, but the real issue is whether Frashour’s actions were the result of his own disregard for another person’s life, or whether he was behaving according to the training he received.

An abundance of evidence supports the latter explanation. National experts in police training interviewed by the Portland Tribune 19 months ago pointed to serious problems with the training Portland officers receive for dealing with people who are mentally ill or distraught. Those opinions were confirmed more recently when the U.S. Justice Department issued a report saying that the “Portland Police Bureau is engaged in a pattern or practice of unnecessary or unreasonable force during interactions with people who have or are perceived to have mental illness.”

Campbell — who was upset about the death of his brother and threatening suicide at his apartment at the time he was killed — may not technically have been mentally ill, but he was certainly in an unstable state. Better training, policies and procedures for the officers who responded to that call might have made a difference in the outcome.

We understand why many people wish Frashour’s firing could be upheld. That would send a firm message that Portlanders have higher expectations for their police officers. Adams’ efforts to keep Frashour out of his job, however, are producing diminishing returns. It appears fairly clear now that labor law is likely to land on Frashour’s side.

To some extent, Adams has made his point: Frashour didn’t live up the standards the mayor and the police chief believe should be in place at the bureau. Now, rather than persist in a doomed cause, Adams, the police chief and other city commissioners should do everything in their power to change the underlying police culture that makes these types of tragedies more likely to occur.