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Police policy committee gets serious

Derek Ashton, an attorney representing former Portland Police Chief Larry O’Dea, didn’t mince words in criticizing a committee’s recommendation that O’Dea lose his police certification for 10 years due to dishonesty. Ashton complained that there was no new evidence to justify the recommendation — a reversal from a month ago when the panel, made up mostly of law enforcement officers, looked more kindly on the chief’s misconduct.

“Going forward,” he told The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Maxine Bernstein, “persons should be hesitant to place much faith in this system.”

He’s wrong in so many ways. Because the recommendation by the police policy committee to the state’s police oversight board actually helps restore faith — the public’s faith, that is — in a system that seems to protect its own rather than hold police officers accountable.

Initially, it seemed the committee was inclined to simply let O’Dea off the hook when it evaluated O’Dea’s handling of the 2016 accidental shooting of a friend during a camping trip. Although two city inquiries found that the police chief had been dishonest and misled investigators about the shooting and a separate human-resources matter, the policy committee recommended to the police oversight board that the chief be allowed to keep his certification. As Bernstein reported earlier this year, members of the committee felt O’Dea, who retired amid the investigations, had suffered enough. It was as if O’Dea was a victim as opposed to a city police chief expected to adhere to basic standards of honesty and trustworthiness.

Fortunately, the policy committee’s recommendation didn’t wash with several members of the police oversight board at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. Led by Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers, the board directed the policy committee to take another look at the case and seek some of the underlying documents that had been redacted. The board will take up the policy committee’s new recommendation in July.

This is one case. As The Oregonian/OregonLive showed last year in its “Fired, but fit for duty” series, there are many more cases in which the state allows police officers to keep their certifications despite being fired due to excessive force, incompetence and other problems.

But this recommendation tells the public that the DPSST recognizes its responsibility to protect Oregonians, not police officers, and that certification is a privilege, not a right.

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