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Saltzman Takes the Heat, Adams Gets In the Kitchen

Thursday, a Multnomah County judge will take the unprecedented step of releasing a grand jury transcript probing the shooting death of Aaron Campbell by a police officer.  The shooting continues to challenge the power balance at Portland City Hall.   Mayor Sam Adams says he’s going to take a more visible role in public safety matters. April Baer reports. 

Oversight of Portland’s police has always been a tough job. This week brought emotional rallies in memory of Aaron Campbell, investigations, and a visit by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman says he hasn’t minded Mayor Sam Adams’ stepping in.

Dan Saltzman  “When you have a Reverend Jesse Jackson coming to town, obviously a national figure, obviously at times like that it’s kind of a mayoral responsibility to be involved in that meeting as much as it is for me.”

Typically, police oversight in Portland has fallen to the Mayor, but when Sam Adams was elected in 2008, he made it clear his top priorities lay in other areas, like transportation, education, and development. At the time, Commissioner Randy Leonard was fresh off a very public disagreement with the Police Chief over operations;  two other commissioners were  new. Those are some of the reasons Adams says he assigned the job to Dan Saltzman. 

Sam Adams:  “This is a guy who is the least political public elected officials of any I’ve dealt with in 25 years- least political in the sense of he takes the time to assemble and look at the facts.” 

Some city hall observers say Saltzman did Adams a big favor taking over the police bureau. Even Commissioner Randy Leonard, who’s had sharp criticism for the Bureau’s handling of the shooting, says Saltzman gets credit for taking actions his predecessors wouldn’t have considered.

Randy Leonard: “Commissioner Saltzman has asked that the grand jury proceedings be made public. That never happened under Mayor Potter or Mayor Katz. I’m not too quick to condemn Commissioner Saltzman.”

That said, Leonard he shares the opinion that stronger civilian oversight is needed.

Mayor Adams says Saltzman absolutely will continue as police commissioner. Adams turned up at a police news conference Tuesday morning, to reiterate his support.  

Sam Adams:  “I have full confidence in Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman, and he and I confer on major issues.”

Adams says he still believes it’s important for the Police Bureau to report to a full-time commissioner. But, Adams also indicated he would play a more public role in the future.

Sam Adams: “The day-to-day decision are his, but people have asked me to be more visible on these issues, and I will.” 

This may already be happening. Adams met with Aaron Campbell’s family Wednesday, to hear their concerns about the officer involved returning to duty. Adams says he believes Campbell did not need die.

A decision may come on the officer’s future Thursday, after Adams confers with Saltzman and Sizer.
Saltzman has been characteristically low-key when asked about whether he has the support of his colleagues. He says he doesn’t feel that he was left hanging in the weeks after the shooting.  It’s part of a job he says he knew from the first would be challenging. His job is unlikely to get any easier, especially since he’s up for election this November.

Pastor Bishop CT Wells, of Emmanuel Temple Church says it’s important to remember the tensions erupting over Aaron Campbell’s death are the product of dozens of incidents over decades.

Pastor Bishop CT Wells:  “There’s been this precipitous incident after  incident that has occurred that has weakened our confidence in law enforcement, and I think we’re going to have long term consequences as a result of it.”

Wells says he can’t think of a public official yet who has struck the right note in dealing with the community’s concerns.  
April Baer, OPB News.