By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D

Schizophrenia is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly. It is a diagnosis assigned to an individual with the requisite symptoms and behavior. In a broader sense, the description can fit some leadership styles and group behavior. Can you imagine working under a leader who cannot make up their mind and travel in one logical direction? If you can, then you know what police officers are facing.

One example is the continued desperate state of affairs of the Portland Police Bureau. After 14 months of continuous civil disturbances, the 50 officer Rapid Response Team designed for addressing violence in unlawful assemblies, walked away from that assignment. In a schizophrenic protest of her own, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty sharply rebuked the officers for resigning. The irony of her constant demand that the unit be disbanded in the first place, then fussing about it being de facto disbanded by the officers that comprise it, seems to be lost to her.

The officers, who will keep their normal assignments since appointment to the response team was voluntary, walked away after one of its members was criminally charged with an assault on a reporter, based on her complaint and review of video of the disturbance. Hardesty is quoted as saying ”I remain deeply concerned these RRT resignations are yet another example of a rogue paramilitary organization that is unaccountable to the elected officials and residents of Portland.” When a member of the unit is being prosecuted for an act occurring under the most chaotic of conditions and other officers are being closely investigated for potential prosecution, Hardesty’s claim of lack of accountability rings hollow if not downright nefarious.

The reporter, who may or may not have a legitimate claim, is like many media members who expect to dance in the thunderstorm and not get wet. Media privilege does not mean that they can break the law just because they are covering law breakers, nor are they immune from obeying lawful orders to disperse.

Portland’s Police Bureau has been forbidden from using video surveillance on protestors even in areas attacked during what the media typically refers to as “mostly peaceful” protests. They have also been restricted from using standard riot control munitions while being attacked by commercial grade pyrotechnics, bottles, and rocks. I am reminded of the Biblical account of the slaves of Egypt when the Pharoah told the slave masters “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota” (Exodus 5).

We see the same kind of hypocrisy in the nation’s capitol after the January 6th attack. President Biden recently, again, used Capital Police Officer Sicknick’s death as a weapon against his political foes. Sicknick’s tragic death was possibly a result of the attack that day, but from a stroke to which he succumbed the day after the incursion. The narrative of his death varies depending its usefulness in a political agenda.

Media headlines proclaim that Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert refuses to support the awarding of medals to the Capitol Police Officers who served during the attack. Boebert stated, however, in contrast to the implication that she is snubbing the officers that ““Once again Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats prove that there is no level they won’t stoop to. Using the death of an officer in April to try and score cheap political points is shameful.”

It is hypocritical for the House of Representatives to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (yet to reach the Senate) which eliminates qualified immunity protections, eliminates police from schools, and increases the ways that officers and agencies can be held under the thumb of Federal authorities, then ooze emotion about the officers that worked to protect them.

Police officers continue to be caught in the crossfire of conflicting sentiments and proposals from Washington, DC to their own capitol cities and local governments. No one is blaming those officers who walk away.