Copwatch Brings Minor (but important) Change

Portland's Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC) has been operating under "the Mayor's Initiative" for over three years. Passed in January 1994, the Initiative moved PIIAC from the Auditor's office to the Mayor's office and added a full-time staff person. Currently, most of the thirteen Citizen Advisors take seriously their charge to hear appeals to Internal Affairs complaints and to churn out quarterly monitoring reports which bring to light serious training, policy, and Internal Affairs procedural issues. Despite the call by one of its former chairs for an internal review, the group wants to have an audit done by an outside agency.

Their first choice, the City Auditor, seems to need a close look at the so-called civilian review board. In the March 21 Oregonian, it was reported that Mayor Katz was proposing to add oversight of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office to PIIAC's charge as part of a city-county services merger. The Mayor further suggested putting PIIAC back under the auspices of the City Auditor, whose office managed PIIAC from 1982 until 1993. The Oregonian states that Auditor Barbara Clark rejected the Mayor's proposal, saying "She is not interested in overseeing the advisors, in part because of the 'scorn heaped on' anyone in that position by the media, police and residents." Clark went on to say that "'I think if the public perceives it as a waste, then it's a waste.'"

Unfortunately, the public hasn't had much chance to look at PIIAC since its restructuring. The public confidence Ms. Clark recalls was at an all time low in 1992 after the shooting of Nathan Thomas brought police misconduct and PIIAC's shortcomings to the front page. The changes made in 1994 grew in part from the public outcry begun at that time.

One obvious problem for PIIAC is the lack of media coverage. Because many of the cases are sent back for technical reasons (e.g. Internal Affairs did not do a thorough investigation; the finding was "unfounded" instead of "insufficient evidence", etc.), they are not very "sexy." Aside from a few short pieces in the Oregonian, the only media to cover PIIAC (other than the People's Police Report) are the Police Association's Rap Sheet and an occasional piece on Flying Focus Video Collective's cable access program.

And, until the fourth quarter 1996 report, the committee's reports on their own main efforts‹the appeals of civilian complainants‹were very confusing.

Here is a sample of how the fourth quarter report read:

"...advisors reviewed seven appeals. We affirmed the Police Bureau's findings in four cases. Of the remaining three, one was returned...In another case, advisors requested that a finding be reviewed...In the third case which involved use of force allegations..."

Dan Handelman of Copwatch proposed that this language could be changed to make the reports more readable by including PIIAC case numbers. For example, the above text would read:

"...advisors reviewed seven cases (96-15 through 96-21). In cases 96-15, 96-19, 96-20 and 96-21 we agreed with Police Bureau findings. We voted to return case 96-18...In case 96-17 we requested that a finding be reviewed...In case 96-16, which involved use of force allegations..."

After Dan testified (several times) that this language was confusing, PIIAC staffer Lisa Botsko has agreed not only to include case numbers, but summaries of the facts as well. This is important since one of the changes to PIIAC in 1994‹that the advisors can now send cases back to Internal Affairs without reporting to City Council‹means that for three years Council hasn't been hearing the details of these cases. In fact, Council may now exercise its right to disagree with the Citizen Advisors and ask that a case be further investigated even if the Advisors agreed with the original Bureau finding.

So, while this may seem like a small change to those who don't go to these meetings, it will make a difference in how PIIAC operates and communicates with the public.

Meanwhile, the mediation process has finally come to a point of review. Only 10 cases have been completed since November 1993, but that is enough to conduct a review of the system. Reports at the PIIAC meetings indicate that changes are being made to prevent cases earmarked for mediation from dragging on without resolution. However, if a case is slated to go to mediation and mediation never occurs, the original allegation never gets investigated. PIIAC's Citizen Advisors have made strong suggestions to improve the process and seem to be very interested in making the mediation program work. Many of these problems will probably be cleared up--or else you'll hear more from us.

For more information contact PIIAC at 823-4126.

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