I've often heard people speculate about the worst places to work as a law enforcement officer in America. The criteria for determining this dubious honor usually involves crime rates. But police officers get into this profession to help people and fight crime. So maybe the criteria for worst places to work should be based on other factors such as lack of community support.
If that's true then Portland, OR, has to be one of the worst places to wear a badge. The Rose City has its pluses as a place to live and work. It's beautiful, but it's also a hotbed of anarchist activism and anti-police sentiment.
God help you if you are a sworn officer working in the Portland Police Bureau and you get involved in some controversial use of force. You personally and the entire force will be condemned in protests and possibly full-fledged riots on the streets of downtown. To work Portland as a cop is to be more hated than the criminals. Case in point, the backlash over the April 7 officer-involved fatal shooting of John Elifritz. Here's the story, according to official and media reports:
Elifritz reportedly called 911 and told the dispatcher he or someone else had murdered his family. When officers arrived on the scene, they didn't find a dead family, but they did find Elifritz holding a knife to his own throat. He then fled.
Officers told the press they wanted to de-escalate so they backed off and called the department's behavioral health unit. Elifritz reportedly then went on a spree. He allegedly carjacked a Honda and spurred numerous 911 calls over what can only be described as bizarre behavior.
That night police caught up with Elifritz at a homeless shelter called Cityteam Ministries. Witnesses say he entered a room where an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was about to begin and started slashing at himself with a knife.
Multiple Portland officers and a Multnomah County Sheriff's deputy followed Elifritz into that room. Video taken on a phone at the scene captured the shooting, spurring Portland's anti-police activists to accuse the officers of "murdering" Elifritz. They slam the officers for not using a K-9 to take the man down or using a TASER to subdue him or "de-escalating" the situation.
And the family is of course planning to sue. They say John Elifritz was a gentle soul who wouldn't hesitate to give a stranger the shirt off his back.
I don't know about giving a stranger the shirt off his back, but there is strong evidence Elifritz would steal a stranger's car. In 1994 he was arrested in a stolen vehicle after police say he participated in a robbery gang. He was charged with possession of a stolen car and "unauthorized use of a vehicle." He reportedly did a year on that charge. Then there is the little matter of the alleged carjacking the day of his death.
None of that matters to the anti-police folks in Portland. They've made Elifritz a martyr in their cause to de-police the city.
But if they want to know what really happened in that room at the homeless shelter, they should talk to the witnesses who praised the officers.
Morgan Thomas Pickering told the Oregonian newspaper that he was in that room and scared for his life. He said the officers were "absolutely 100% justified." Pickering and other witnesses said officers ordered Elifritz to drop the knife and tried to shoot the man with a less-lethal impact munition before they used deadly force. "I applaud their actions," Pickering said. "They actually saved lives."
No one in the anti-police movement in Portland wants to hear that. They just want the officers punished for doing their job, as difficult as their job can be. And there are few places where the job is more difficult than in Portland.
It's so bad in Portland that people are protesting hiring more officers to fill the department's depleted ranks. Is it little wonder that the Portland Police Bureau is facing what the police union calls a "catastrophic" shortage of officers?
There are dedicated police officers working in dangerous and difficult places all over the United States. They stay on the job because they are called to it. The officers who work in Portland must be extremely dedicated to their calling. Otherwise, why would they put up with this mess?