Councilors voice support for police during discussion of force policies

By Sean C. Morgan
Lebanon Local
Lebanon Police Chief Frank Stevenson agreed with city councilors who said at their June 10 meeting that good cops give bad cops a bad name, and he told the councilors that Linn County police officers are among the best of the best.
Referencing the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, Minn., and subsequent nationwide protests, including Lebanon, councilors emphasized their support for Lebanon police during their regular meeting on June 10 during a discussion local use of force policies.
“I would like to thank the chief and the department for the work they’ve been doing in the background and making sure that the protesters that are there now are safe,” said Mayor Paul Aziz, himself a former police officer. “I’ve heard positive comments that the police have been friendly to them and are safe.”
Based on emails, Aziz said, people are concerned about several areas of police procedures, like choke holds.
Law enforcement is very different from what it was years ago when Aziz was involved in law enforcement, he said. “One of the exciting things that I liked when I came on as mayor is seeing we follow the state and county guidelines on use of force and our policies. It’s actually a really good policy we have on those kinds of things.”
He asked the police chief to discuss those policies and training.
“You pretty much nailed it on the head when you talked about how great, I think, our policies are when it comes to use of force and training and the amount of training these officers, including myself, are involved in – anything from deescalation training, bias training,” Stevenson said. “Things that are surrounding those areas are something that we train on a regular basis.
“I want to make it clear that it’s no officer’s wish to use force. It’s usually the last option that we’re faced with. We’re trained diligently on de-escalation tactics. I have to say that I’m extremely proud of the officers, with the amount of people that we contact with on a daily basis, and to see the numbers when we use force is really low.
“They’re masterful when it comes to communicating and de-escalating situations.”
Law enforcement has gone away from the choke hold, for example, Stevenson said. The choke hold has never been around during his 26 years in law enforcement.
With use of force, the department follows the best practices, principles and standards, following state, local and federal law, Stevenson said, basing its policies on those produced by Lexipol, which is used throughout Oregon. The service looks at every law and civil liability to evaluate those policies.
Stevenson said he is open to sharing the policy and statistics with anyone who is interested. He typically prepares a report for the City Council at the end of the fiscal year, June 30.
For 2019, officers of the Lebanon Police Department reported using force in 62 separate incidents, while attempting to control a violent situation or effect an arrest, Stevenson said. Some of those incidents involved multiple officers, multiple suspects and multiple levels of force, such as the use of physical force, use of a Taser or displaying a firearm.
There were 30 separate incidents of physical force (forcing suspect to the ground), 25 incidents where less-lethal incidents where Taser was displayed but not used, seven incidents where the Taser was used and 26 incidents where a firearm was displayed but not fired, Stevenson said. Police also have used the less-lethal tool called wrap four times.
“All of the reported uses of force were put through an extensive review process to ensure that proper application of procedures and compliance with the operational guidelines of this agency,” Stevenson said.
Providing body cameras for officers was a good decision for the department, which began using them in 2012, Stevenson said. Every officer on duty wears and uses them. The department also has dash cameras in all of its cars, and officers are on video everywhere they go.
“The use of force by law enforcement personnel, it’s a matter of critical concern from not only the citizens of this community but also for law enforcement,” Stevenson said. “It’s only used when warranted, and it’s something that when used is looked at very heavily by this agency.”
An on-duty supervisor reviews any incident involving use of force, Stevenson said, and then it goes through a three-pronged administrative review, ending with the police chief.
Internal investigations are handed to other law enforcement agencies and the state Department of Justice, he said. A district attorney’s office from another county is called in to evaluate the criminality of an incident.
“The reasons we do that is to ensure that no unreasonable amount of force was used,” Stevenson said. The review also shows things the police could possibly have done better or where additional training may be useful.
The Lebanon Police Department, along with departments across the state, has been working this way for many years, Stevenson said.
“I’m very proud of our Lebanon Police Department,” Councilor Rebecca Grizzle told Stevenson. “I’m very proud of our city and our county. Thank you and I wish you would pass along, at least on my behalf – and I’m sure that’s part of what other people want to say – thank you and your staff for everything you do.”
“We get into this job not to be thanked,” Stevenson said. “But now, more than ever, a thank you is nice to hear. I appreciate that.”
Jason Bolen, a Lebanon firefighter, echoed the support, adding that Lebanon “had a really nice moment here with the public. It would be very easy for us as a council and for you, chief, as a leader of an organization to just trust your people and say, ‘I know we’re good and therefore I’m going to close off my ears to the input of anyone who might point a finger and say there’s something we can do better.’
“What I like about this situation is I feel like LPD is saying, ‘You know what, we hear you. We’re going to explain this to you.’ I also feel like you’re open to criticism as it comes.”
Bolen has read many of Stevenson’s replies to comments and questions, he said. “I thought they were very well-answered. I thought you addressed people with respect and with an educational approach. I think people appreciate that. Matter of fact, I know they do because they replied back to you and said so.”
As events unfold, possibly showing ways to improve, Bolen wants to remain open to exploring better ways to use the police, he said.
Bolen said he remains “100 percent” supportive of the police officers.
“I know this has got to be a difficult time for them because good cops really hate bad cops – and it makes them look bad. I’m thankful for our guys. It makes you proud as a councilor that when something like this comes up, the first thing out of my head is I’m so glad we don’t have to worry about people like that in our organization.
“If it does happen, though, I’m also confident that we will take the measures necessary to address those people and those individuals and handle the situation to the extent the public deserves because ultimately, the public is our boss. And they are whom we answer to. I thank you for answering to them.”
Councilor Michelle Steinhebel said she planned to attend the June 14 protest event to listen and learn from other points of view. She thanked Stevenson for working with the organizers and for his quick and eloquent responses to all of the emails the council has been receiving.
“I trust you and your leadership,” Steinhebel said. “Thank you.”
Councilor Karin Stauder, also a former police officer, echoed the previous comments.
“We are really in a unique position here in the Northwest,” Stauder said. The Ninth Circuit Court, under which Oregon is a part, is more limiting than other places in the country.”
She noted that at the Police Academy, every officer goes through training to develop “emotional intelligence and address “implicit bias” and develop “community competency.”
“The community competency is specific to a bunch of different groups – it would be the black community, the Hispanic community, the gay and lesbian community – just trying to educate people and get the officers to understand they’re going to come across a variety of different peoples and how to react to that and treat people with kindness and respect. Each officer gets that when they go through the academy.”
That training continues annually, Stauder said, and thanked Stevenson for getting that information out there so citizens know what’s going on and “that we’re really not like the Midwest and some of these procedures that we’re seeing.”
“Someone here said no good cop likes bad cops,” Stauder said. “That is absolutely true. As a former police officer, it makes me cringe when I see that behavior, knowing that in my agency, where I was from, we didn’t do that.”
And that also applies in Lebanon and Linn County, she said. “We are very, very lucky. I hope our citizens understand that we have great law enforcement in this area that’s very respectful and does the right thing for the right reasons.”
Councilor Wayne Rieskamp echoed the comments: “I think we are very fortunate having watched all these protests and rioting.”
He wondered how bad cops get into police agencies.
Lebanon completes substantial background checks and training that continues, quarterly and weekly – and for Stevenson, he learns something new every day, he said.
“I’ll echo, there’s nothing more that I hate as a bad cop,” Stevenson said. “It gives a bad taste. It gives a bad reputation. The oath that we swore to uphold and to protect, we hold near and dear to our heart; and when that oath is broken, I can tell you as the chief, when that oath and when that officer breaks that oath, they no longer are an officer within this Police Department. If there is a bad cop, they will be identified very quickly and handled swiftly and no longer be a police officer.
“I’ve got to tell you, the men and women that work within this community and within this county are some of the best of the best, and like Karin said, we should feel very fortunate because we have an outstanding law enforcement family within Linn County, Benton County. Like I said, it’s the best of the best. They train regularly and uphold their oath.”
Councilor Robert Furlow added his agreement to the councilors’ comments.
The reason Lebanon Police Department is as successful as it is because it follows the county and the state, Furlow said. “We are not a rogue department being manipulated by a union trying to preserve employees’ rights. When something is identified that is out of sync with local policy, which includes Linn County and the State of Oregon, action is taken immediately; and that stands to our credit.”
Stevenson told the council that a protest was scheduled for Sunday afternoon. He had met with the organizers. Plans included time for several speakers, a moment of silence and prayer.
“They’re very well organized,” Stevenson said. “They want to get a message across, and I want to ensure they’re safe in doing so. I don’t anticipate any problems, but rest assured I’m prepared for problems.”
In a Sunday press release, the Lebanon Police Department reported the Unity March was peaceful and traffic continued as normal during the event. The department also thanked organizers for keeping it peaceful and the community of Lebanon for its support.
In other business, councilors:
♦ who met electronically June 10, said they plan to return to physical meetings in July, although Furlow said he would continue to attend electronically.
♦ Held budget hearings and approved adjustments among line items to the 2019-20 budget and adopted the 2020-21 budget and taxes for the city and urban renewal districts. The council received no public comments on any of the budget matters.
♦ Approved a memorandum of understanding with the Lebanon Police Association. The city’s contract with the union expires June 30, but the two sides have been unable to bargain, thanks to restrictions in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The contract will continue into 2020-21 unchanged except for an agreement to increase wages by 2 percent. Under the previous years in the contract, the union receives a raise equal to the Consumer Price Index-W, which was 1.7 percent, or a minimum of 2 percent.
♦ Approved an revision to the noise ordinance eliminating the requirement of sound measuring devices to determine violations.
♦ Approved an application for the 2020 Recreational Trail Program Grant to assist with construction of the Old Mill Trail, a new section from the City of Lebanon parking lot on Mountain River Drive to Gills Landing RV Park.
The million-dollar project is primarily covered by donated funds, said interim City Manager Ron Whitlach. The city also has secured another grant. Funds from the new grant will cover items that may be missed in a formal estimate for the project.
♦ Accepted a quitclaim deed from the Heatherington Foundation for Innovation and Education in Health Care for a 20-foot easement for the proposed Old Mill Trail.
♦ Agreed to move the proposed Mill Race Urban Renewal Plan forward to a public review process that will include public hearings at the Planning Commission and City Council.
The Mill Race Urban Renewal District would remove a property on the north end of Lebanon from the Northwest Urban Renewal District and create a new district that would allow up to $9.7 million in debt to reimburse development costs and offer developer incentives. The district would operate through 2028 and use tax revenue increases based on increasing property value in the district to pay back the debt.
The district will go before the Planning Commission on July 15 and the council on Aug. 12.
♦ Reappointed Cassie Cruze and Jenni Grove to the Arts Commission; Josh Port and Lance Caddy to the Budget Committee; David McClain and Josh Port to the Planning Commission; Marlene Flyer, Sherry Liest and Harriett Voss to the Senior and Disabled Services Advisory Committee; and Jan Diamantine to the Trees and Trails Advisory Committee.
♦ Appointed Russell Fish to the Library Advisory Board and Lori McNulty to the Senior and Disabled Services Advisory Committee.
♦ Approved a public access and utilities easement for a water main extension and fire hydrant off Mazama Avenue.
♦ Recommended approval to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission of a liquor license for off-premises sales for Growler Cafe.