Dismissing what he called the “ubiquitous critics” who will never be satisfied with what police do, Portland Police Chief Mike Reese promoted controversial Leo Besner to sergeant Thursday.
Reese told the crowd assembled at the Portland Building that he, as chief, has certainly experienced the critics the last week or so. It was a veiled reference to community members who have questioned Besner’s promotion, concerned that he has cost the city more than $852,000 from tort claims and jury awards in the past seven years.
But the chief said he fully supported each of the officers promoted. “To each of you, you would not be here if I did not have faith in your skills and abilities,” Reese said.
The chief shared a favorite Theodore Roosevelt quote, which he said helps him keep perspective:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Bobbie Jo Foster –the sister of Raymond Gwerder, who was shot in the back and killed by Besner during a standoff in 2005 –wrote to the chief and Mayor Sam Adams before the ceremony. She urged that Besner be passed over for promotion and questioned his fitness as an officer. Portland Copwatch, the Rev. Chuck Currie and Jessie Cornett, a former City Council candidate who was Gwerder ‘s best friend, also questioned the promotion.
Later Thursday, Cornett and Currie released statements in response. “We hereby ask Mayor Adams to admonish Chief Reese for his combativeness and choosing to make a bad situation worsen,” Cornett said.
Currie also took Reese to task. “Actually, Chief Reese, in a democracy, critics count. The Portland Police Bureau does not stand apart or above the citizens of this great city,” Currie said. “We value the service of those who risk much as members of the Bureau, but many Portlanders have deep concerns about the leadership of the bureau.”
The mayor, who also serves as the city’s police commissioner, said he’s asked city attorneys for a legal analysis on whether tort claims could be, and should be, part of officers’ future annual performance evaluations.
Reese earlier this week defended his decision, saying Besner scored well on a promotional written exam and oral interview, and has done exceptional work as an acting sergeant at North Precinct the last several months.
The chief promoted Chris Davis, Art Nakamura and David Meyer to lieutenant; Besner, Mike Leasure, Mark Friedman, Josh Goldschmidt and Cathe Kent to sergeant. He urged each to treat everyone with respect, be fair and compassionate and have the courage to do what is right.
Fellow officers tried to shield Besner from reporters as he left the ceremony. Asked if he had any comment, Besner politely said, “No thanks.” He will be assigned as a sergeant at East Precinct.