COMMENDATION LETTER BETTER THAN AWARD

November 29, 2002 12:00 am

Portland Police Chief Mark Kroeker should have guessed that Hispanic members of the community would be upset when the bureau gave awards to two officers who were involved in the death of a mentally ill Mexican man.

ACTIVISTS HAVE been protesting the awards handed to Officers Jeffrey M. Bell and Christopher A. Davis and some are calling for Kroeker's resignation.

Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot, 29, was shot on April 1, 2001, outside a hospital in Sellwood when Poot advanced on the officers with a metal bar. Bell fired his gun at the man, but only after other means, including pepper spray and bean bag rounds were unsuccessful in halting him.

The officers were awarded the Police Medal, not because they had killed a man, but because they faced a "serious threat" requiring deadly force.

UNDERSTANDABLY, Hispanic community members are having a hard time swallowing this as a reason to give out the award. They may wonder why less-lethal stun guns were not used.

Chief Kroeker could have found a less-public way to convey his admiration for Bell and Davis. A commendation letter from the chief put in each man's personnel file would have been sufficient.

AT A SAFE DISTANCE

It was deja vu Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center towers. But this time firefighter bravery was displayed this week in the southern Oregon coastal town of Coos Bay. The result was the loss of three lives.

Firefighter Randall Carpenter, 46, and volunteers Chuck Hanners, 33, and Jeffery Common, 30, died Monday while attacking a fire on the second story of Farwest Truck and Auto Supply in downtown Coos Bay. The trio were among several firefighters who were in the building or on top of it minutes before the roof collapsed.

WHEN FIREFIGHTERS on top of the building reported the roof was getting spongy, the fire chief ordered all of them out of the building. Carpenter, Hanners and Common were unable to escape the inferno when the roof gave way. They paid the ultimate price.

The tragedy is another reminder of how firefighters can be called on to risk their lives at any moment. A major difference between the auto parts warehouse fire and the New York City inferno is that civilian lives were at risk at the Word Trade Center, and not in Coos Bay.

It makes us wonder if firefighters should be put in harm's way when apparently there are no lives at risk in a building. Isn't it better to fight a fire from a safe distance on the street?