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What Happened to James Chasse: Potter voices pride in police, will push if necessary

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Potter voices pride in police, will push if necessary

from The Oregonian, by Ryan Frank

One day after he got a nasty note from Portland's police union president, Mayor Tom Potter responded Wednesday to rebut claims that he doesn't support rank-and-file officers.

Union President Robert King, typically known for a tempered approach, called out Potter in a terse letter Tuesday as highlighting controversy while ignoring officers' work to successfully reduce crime.

"Contrary to Robert's statements," wrote Potter, a former police chief, "I AM proud of the members of the Portland Police Bureau. I know how hard you work and the sacrifices you make to protect our city."

Yet, Potter said, he'll stick by his approach to publicly call on officers for changes when he sees a problem.

The two most public examples that caught King's attention: a Potter-appointed committee to study racial profiling and the mayor's heartburn over the death of James P. Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old schizophrenic, in police custody.

"I don't think we can avoid these kinds of discussions," Potter said in an interview Wednesday. "We need to confront them directly."

Potter and King have known each other since the union leader was a child. But Potter has had a troubled run since street officers were skeptical of him as chief, and the union endorsed his opponent in the 2004 mayoral campaign. King and Potter have had a few run-ins since Potter took office, including last year when Potter said police stops of a Somali American "smacked of racism."

Potter says he's gotten along with King just fine. They have started sharing breakfast at the Bijou Cafe downtown.

King's letter Tuesday marked the first such strong message in writing from the union leader. King, who couldn't be reached for comment late Wednesday, has said he's facing pressure from his union to take a stand against the mayor.

His letter followed a column in the January issue of the Rap Sheet, the police union's monthly paper, headlined "Stand up, Tom Potter," by Drugs and Vice Division Officer Daryl Turner.

"It seems like Mayor Potter wants to put our backs against the wall until we say uncle, but that's not going to happen," Turner wrote. "Tom Potter spent over two decades as a cop, yet he seems like a stranger to us."

In his letter, King complained that Potter highlighted Chasse's death in his State of the City speech. "Instead of providing leadership to broaden people's understanding of what we do, you followed the lead of the media and their single-minded focus on controversy," King wrote.

Potter wrote in his letter, which was posted on his Web site, that he talked about the Chasse case because "I want Portlanders to know the Police Bureau and city have learned from James Chasse's death, and are doing everything possible to prevent such tragedies."

King complained that Potter also "tried and convicted the police of racial profiling."

When asked if he thinks racial profiling exists, Potter said:

"Yes. . . . It's a problem because the community believes it's a problem. It's a problem because of the accumulated information we have developed indicating that something is going on. And whatever that something is needs to be fixed."

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