People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Chief Presents Racial Profiling Plan to Council
While the Portland Police Bureau vigorously defends two officers who manhandled and "beanbag" shot a 12-year-old African American girl whose crime was riding public transportation (see article in this issue on James Chasse), efforts to improve community-police relations continue in hopes of eliminating racial profiling in Portland. The biggest step forward in recent months was the September 2 presentation of Chief Sizer's Racial Profiling Plan to City Council. The bad news is, Sizer had not changed a single word of the plan despite public forums held in April; the good news is, City Council forced her to immediately implement the handing out of business cards at nearly all police stops.
The plan still has no outline for how to hold officers accountable if they are guilty of profiling (PPR #47). Commissioner Amanda Fritz requested a tally of how many officers have findings sustained against them for profiling. This will be a very small number, as the only case we know of in the last five years that was sustained was in 2007.
While Chief Sizer vehemently resisted implementing the business card plan--her idea was to wait until hand-held ticketing devices were available in 2011 so officers could print their cards on the bottoms of the tickets--Council directed her to change the Identification directive in two weeks' time. At that, the Police proposed to only hand out cards at stops ending with tickets or warnings. Council wanted cards handed out at every stop, regardless of the outcome.
Although some mocked the idea, this is something Portland Copwatch has requested of every police chief we've met with since 1993, and we believe it will help defuse tensions not just around race, but for everyone. As summed up by Oregonian columnist Anna Griffin (September 5): "Handing over business cards... says: 'Call my boss if you think I'm treating you unfairly'; 'I'm not afraid to be held accountable for my work'; and most important, it says 'I work for you.'"
Detective Peter Simpson, editor of the Portland Police Association (PPA) newsletter, the Rap Sheet, claims that more people are complaining about the cards than appreciating them. In the November issue, he refers to the policy as a "comedy," adding that people give officers strange looks and ask, "Why would I want your card?" Some even say the cards are "a waste of paper," and Simpson felt it was hilarious that a "transient" refused a cop's card, saying "No thanks, I hardly have enough toilet paper."
As is typical of the Bureau, the rewritten directive (#312.50) includes enough loopholes for officers to avoid ever complying with it. There are exceptions: when handing out business cards "might impair safety or compromise an investigation," or when they decide that "the request is clearly an attempt to harass, delay or manipulate the contact." Sizer said the exceptions were made due to officer concerns that witnesses might run up to them demanding a card while they're dealing with a suspect (insert "Animal House" cough here) (Oregonian, September 21).
They also ignored community concerns, including the terms "customer service" and "customer relations" despite a member of the Human Rights Commission's Community and Police Relations Committee (CPRC) objecting to police stop subjects being referred to as "customers." And, as icing on the cake, they removed the sentence that directs officers to tell civilians their DPSST number if they are asked for a "badge number" (Portland Police don't have badge numbers). It took years to get them to include that provision, now it is gone at the stroke of a pen.
Again after Council pushed her, Chief Sizer agreed to take another look at the training videos that feature no African Americans as cops or as civilians. Sizer agreed to ask for help from JoAnn Bowman of Oregon Action, who co-chaired the Racial Profiling Committee (2007-2008) and had asked for the plan to come to Council ( Mercury , September 10).
Meanwhile, the CPRC continues to meet and find ways for officers and civilians to share one another's point of view. Word is that former PPA President Robert King spoke highly of the "living room dialogues" which have brought together mostly Latino community members and a small group of officers to break bread and barriers.
Officer Greg Pashley also applauded the efforts in the September Rap Sheet: He noted that when you sit down and eat food, "you are bound to learn a thing or two," adding that knowing people can "motivate you to make a difference in people's lives." However, he also made it clear that the residents expressed their concern about crime in the Cully neighborhood, offering assistance with "addressing chronic offenders and high crime locations." It sounds as though there was no information exchanged about how to hold officers accountable for acts of misconduct.
At the December CPRC meeting, Chief Sizer promised a community discussion about use of force in the aftermath of the beanbag incident.
In national news, the Associated Press (AP) reported that over a million people are stopped and frisked by police each year. In major cities, the majority of those stopped are black and Latino men. "Many are frisked, and nearly all are innocent of any crimes." Police say they are looking for signs such as whether someone is on the lookout, drug dealing, or has burglary tools; they claim the amount of contraband they find prevents more serious crime. University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris noted that "few searches yield weapons or drugs... and the more people are searched, the more innocent people are hassled. The hit rate goes down because you're being less selective about how you're doing this" (AP, October 8). The "hit rate" is how often contraband is found during searches; in Portland, contraband is found 20% less frequently on people of color than on whites.
Public Defender Says Man Stopped for "Bicycling While Black"
African American Portlander Robert James, 26, was bicycling in June when Officer Cody Berne (#45662) pulled him over, claiming James had rolled through a stop sign, then acted nervous and rode slowly. Berne patted down James and allegedly found drugs, then discovered that James had previously been arrested for armed robbery. James ran, Berne followed. When he caught up, the drugs were gone. James was arrested for blowing the stop sign and eluding police. Public defender Chris O'Connor, in James' defense, said he was stopped for "bicycling while black." James felt he was being profiled, and consented because he feared refusing the officer's request. On the stand, Berne said most gang members he deals with are black: "I almost think it'd be easier if everyone I arrested was white because then we couldn't have these types of arguments." The judge decided there was no reasonable suspicion, but upheld the pat-down as legal since James consented. A jury convicted him of interfering with a police officer for not stopping when Berne told him to. O'Connor is appealing (Portland Mercury , September 17).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.