UPDATE 11:31 AM: Chief Mike Reese has issued a statement confirming he ordered the three officers named below to take down their "I am Darren Wilson" Facebook profile pictures. He's also asked Professional Standards to review the matter—using their badges, he says, trumped the officers' right to free speech in their time off the job.
"I was alerted to these images this morning and immediately ordered their removal through the officers' chain of command. The image displayed does not represent this organization and was very inflammatory in nature," said Chief Mike Reese. "Officers certainly have a right to have and express their opinions but not using an official badge of the Portland Police Bureau. The badge represents all members of the organization, past and present, and is an important symbol in our community that must not be tarnished. I've asked the Professional Standards Division to review this matter for possible policy violations."
UPDATE 11:38 AM: Mayor Charlie Hales' office also has sent out a statement cheering the chief's decision, saying "the actions taken by these three officers here in Portland" run afoul of conversations on lowering the temperature in the community ahead of the grand jury announcement and ongoing attempts at police reform.
We learned this morning that three officers altered images of the official Portland Police Bureau badge. Chief Reese did the right thing by immediately ordering the officers to remove these symbols, and by ordering Professional Standards Division to review this matter for possible policy violations.
We have been actively participating in collaborative dialog with community leaders and other Portlanders on issues of police and community relations. Recently, police participated in specific dialog related to possible reactions to the upcoming release of a verdict from the grand jury in Ferguson, Mo.
The actions taken by these three officers here in Portland do not help get us to that goal.
The officers made a political statement by altering the city’s official badges. They were wrong to do so. Their actions do a disservice to the hundreds of Portland Police Officers who are building relationships and partnerships with the community every day.
I urge officers to follow the guidelines issued by my office, and by the Portland Police Bureau command staff, to work with our community in the days to come, cooperatively, and to address the very real issues of police and community relations.
Original post starts here:
On the eve of news from the grand jury considering criminal charges in the summertime police shooting of unarmed Ferguson teen Michael Brown, at least three Portland police officers over the weekend declared their sympathies for the officer at the center of that investigation.
Officers Rich Storm, Rob Blanck, and Kris Barber each changed their profile pictures on Facebook to an image of a Portland police badge wrapped in a rubber bracelet that says "I am Darren Wilson."
One of those officers—Storm—was a principal agent in case materials supplied when the federal Department of Justice in 2012 found Portland police officers had not only engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force against people with mental illness—but also at times needlessly escalated encounters requiring force and that they'd also been notably struggling to build trust with the city's African American community.
In 2011, Storm punched an unarmed Spanish-speaking man several times in the face—after the man had tried kicking Storm, but also after Storm had thrown the man to the ground. The DOJ questioned why this had to happen.
Police accountability activists, including some planning to rally whenever the Ferguson decision is announced, began sharing the photos on social media late Saturday, contacting reporters at local papers, including me. Some have since compiled their own scathing writeup, and the images have been making their way around Twitter this morning, asking the police bureau whether its leadership thinks "black lives" "matter" or not. Many of the racial justice issues underlying the rage and rallying in Ferguson also are present, to varying degrees, in Portland.
One of the officers, in comments under their public profile pictures, said a few have been buying the rubber bracelets for five dollars apiece. So far, I've only found—just like the activists—three officers. That's notable in a bureau with nearly 1,000 officers. Incoming police chief Larry O'Dea told reporters last month, during the press conference when his hiring was announced, that he saw improving the bureau's relationship with minority communities as a top priority.
O'Dea—who's regularly sat with the city's Community and Police Relations Committee, a forum for sensitive topics like racial profiling—has made improving relations with the city's minority communities a major focus. He's also said he wants the bureau, and its largely white male command staff, to look more like the community it serves.
Tellingly, he invoked Ferguson, Missouri, in making his point. He said the bad blood there is about "way more than what happened that night," when police shot an unarmed black teenager. It's about a fraught relationship between cops and community members that he says he wants to keep mending here, too.
Sergeant Pete Simpson, spokesperson for the bureau, tells me he's looking into the issue. I'll update with a comment.
UPDATE 10:52 AM: Storm has changed his profile picture to a trippy portrait of "The Dude" from The Big Lebowski (h/t to Jefferson Smith and Katy Lesowski Smith's
pug puggle, George Bailey). In the comments under Storm's new avatar, Blanck notes the recent change—and Storm tells him "a direct order is a direct order."
UPDATE 3:12 PM: The Reverend Chuck Currie, who often comments on police accountability issues, especially issues concerning racial justice, has asked Hales and Reese not to let Storm, Barber, or Blanck, and others who liked their posts have duty during any Ferguson protests tonight or tomorrow.
As a Portland citizen, I appreciate your quick response in ordering three Portland Police officers to remove inflammatory badges from their Facebook profiles that read "I am Darren Wilson." It is concerning that reportedly many other officers "liked" the badges. Clearly, as I have stated over the years, racism is a problem in the ranks of the PPB.
I call on you both to remove these three officers and any others who liked their profile pictures from duty during any protests related to the pending Michael Brown decision. The officers cannot be trusted. They have outed themselves as people unfit for service. As you both know, Portland is a better city.
UPDATE WEDNESDAY, 11/26: Currie and the mayor's office have confirmed that neither of the three officers were put on protest duty last night.