In a non-shocking development, following criticism that the Salem Police Department erred in tear-gassing Black Lives Matter protesters and showed favoritism toward heavily armed "militia" members in the downtown area, a review by the Police Department of Police Department actions found that the Police Department did very little wrong.
(Related news: following criticism by my wife that the haphazard way I load the dishwasher will lead to glasses being broken when they bang against each other, I did a review of my dishwasher-loading actions and found that I did very little wrong. Nonetheless, I'll change where the glasses go because I feel like it, and for no other reason.)
Whoever is behind the Reform Salem Police web site disagrees with the Police Department's "Review of Protest Events." They've added a Rebuttal to Chief Moore page to the web site. Excerpt: (The quote from Chief Moore is accurate; seems like the last few words should have been "needed to be changed.")
Chief Moore (page 3): “The department is a learning organization and we have learned a lot over the past few weeks. We have made changes to the issues we recognize and understand needed changed.
If Salem PD was truly a learning organization, Chief Moore and other leaders would have changed their tune when overwhelming video evidence began surfacing. Instead, they continue to cling to debunked talking points and act as if what everyone is seeing with their own eyes, and in many cases, what people lived through via personal experience, is not reality. It’s absolutely disgusting what Salem PD, including and especially Chief Moore, thinks that they can get away with. Equally disgusting is the lack of those in power holding the Department and Chief accountable. Shame on all of those involved.
So we're left with two starkly contrasting views of the appropriateness of what happened in the downtown area from May 30 to June 1. I don't know which is more correct. At the moment, no one does with convincing certainty.
Defenders of the police will hold up the 10-page report from the Police Department as vindication of the general approach taken by officers, though the report does mention several areas where the department could have done a better job. Defenders of the protesters will continue to point to video evidence that officers tilted the scales of justice in favor of the armed people and against those marching in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Regarding the scales of justice, the rebuttal to Chief Moore repeatedly cites the dismissal of all charges against 14 protesters by the Marion County District Attorney as evidence that the Salem Police Department overreacted. It does seem strange that if some protesters truly were engaged in a dangerous riot, as Chief Moore claims, none of them were charged with a crime.
The Reform Salem Police people are calling for state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to launch a third-party investigation of the Police Department.
A petition in support of this has been signed by 1,628 individuals at the moment. I doubt Rosenblum will agree to an investigation, since the alleged wrongs, though serious, are nowhere near as bad as George Floyd's murder, to offer just one example of extreme police brutality.
It's unfortunate that there's so little capability for effective independent oversight within the City of Salem. Not only the Police Department, but every department, should be held to account for how the public is served, or fails to be served. As it stands, there's no equivalent to the Inspector General that can conduct investigations into wrongdoing within federal agencies.
I made the joking allusion to my reluctance to admit that my dishwasher-loading capability could use improvement because it's human nature to look upon ourselves more generously than a view by an outside observer would consider to be warranted. That's why performance evaluations aren't carried out by the employee themselves, and why students don't grade themselves.
Police Departments are especially resistant to outside oversight. Police unions often put up roadblocks to this. And there's the notion of a "noble cause corruption" at play when attempts are made to question police behavior. Wikipedia says:
Noble cause corruption is corruption caused by the adherence to a teleological ethical system, suggesting that people will use unethical or illegal means to attain desirable goals,a result which appears to benefit the greater good. Where traditional corruption is defined by personal gain, noble cause corruption forms when someone is convinced of their righteousness, and will do anything within their powers to achieve the desired result. An example of noble cause corruption is police misconduct "committed in the name of good ends" or neglect of due process through "a moral commitment to make the world a safer place to live."
Conditions for such corruption usually occur where individuals feel no administrative accountability, lack morale and leadership, and lose faith in the criminal justice system. These conditions can be compounded by arrogance and weak supervision.
Hopefully the controversy over how the Salem Police Department handled the recent protests will lead to better ways of evaluating the department. The City Council is embarking on a performance audit of the department, probably by an outside person. Part of the audit could be an examination of the "Chief said/Critics said" debate over how the protests were handled.
And the audit should include recommendations for how external reviews of the Police Department could be carried out on an ongoing basis. After all, police and fire account for a majority of the general fund spending by the City of Salem. If those dollars aren't being spent efficiently and effectively, taxpayers deserve to know about this.