by Bob Barr
Thanks to the Obama administration’s legacy of promoting baseless charges of racism against police departments across the country, the Portland Police Department is facing what it calls a “critical staffing shortage.”
In 2012, Obama’s Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement with the department stemming from allegations that it discriminated against individuals suffering from mental problems. As a result, the agency has been forced to comply with a 77-page court order and submit endless paperwork under the constant oversight of outside individuals, committees and officials at the Justice Department and elsewhere, each one ready to second-guess every instance in which one of Portland’s police officers exercises use of force.
It is a textbook example of what happens when federal bureaucrats with the power to sue local government entities turn agencies upside down and recreate them in the image of Washington, D.C.
According to the terms of the Portland agreement, whether a police officer is deemed to have acted within the letter of that agreement — and therefore be free from disciplinary action or removal — is to be decided not by trained and professional police officers. Instead, the actions of the police are to be judged by individuals and committees that are expressly and purposefully “wholly independent of [Portland Police Bureau].”
For example, if a police officer misjudges whether an individual is suffering a “mental health crisis” and reacts inappropriately, he or she could be disciplined or even fired. Yet, the court-enforced agreement defines “mental health crisis” to mean that a person is “experiencing intense feelings of personal distress,” including a “catastrophic life event” leading to “an upward trajectory of intensity.” The extreme difficulty any police officer might have in making a split-second decision based on such unintelligible provisions as that, illustrates the dangers posed by agreements such as the one in Portland.
Under such circumstances, it should not be surprising that Portland’s police are hesitant to intervene in volatile situations, such as when Antifa gangs roam the city streets and threaten violence or commit acts of violence against other individuals. This happened just weeks ago when Antifa severely injured conservative reporter Andy Ngo while police and Portland’s pacifist mayor, Ted Wheeler, stood by and watched.
Shortly before he left office last November, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo to the Justice Department calling for a reevaluation of settlement agreements such as the one signed by the Portland Police Department. For the sake of police officers everywhere, and for the protection of citizens within their jurisdictions, the Trump administration should make it a priority to fully implement the policy outlined in Sessions’ memo.
Bob Barr (@BobBarr) represented Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He currently serves as president and CEO of the Law Enforcement Education Foundation.