People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Other Information Contact info
Council Adopts Minor Changes to Bureau Policies and Oversight
System--Constrained by the Auditor
Portland's City Council held four hearings and ultimately adopted minor changes to the ordinance governing the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR) and its 9-member Citizen Review Committee (CRC), as well as accepting a report from the Mayor/Police Commissioner and Chief regarding Bureau policy changes. Those policy changes have been made, are in process, or will not be done unless the public demands it. Considering the short timeline given to review reams of information, the police and security guards lock-down of City Hall just before the November 16 hearing, and their searches of people's bags at the December 8 hearing, it seems as if the Council doesn't really want to hear from the public.
Although each of the ordinance changes affects them, all four hearings were held in between two scheduled CRC meetings, so that by the time they had a chance to deliberate, it was too late.
On Nov. 4, Mayor Sam Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese released a 44-page "Report on Recommendations Regarding the Portland Police Bureau" responding to at least four sets of suggestions to improve the Police Bureau and IPR. Three days later, City Auditor Lavonne Griffin Valade released her own 45-page response to most of the same reports, as well as draft language to change the IPR ordinance, particularly parts about the CRC.
Amazingly, even though there are over 100 recommendations for changes and improvements, the Auditor's initial proposal contained only six changes to the ordinance, with just three based on community concerns, while the 51 proposals about police procedures received administrative responses from the Mayor. The Auditor added a useful seventh change on November 22. Then the Mayor tried addressing another community concern but actually made the CRC weaker. The Mayor's change clarifies CRC can hear new information at hearings (good) but forbids them to use that information to decide whether an officer violated policy (bad).
Portland Copwatch (PCW) analyzed the Mayor, Chief and Auditor's responses to the recommendations, some of which date back to 2001 and earlier. Many policy issues came from the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, while others derived from the CRC's report on PARC (police shootings expert review). The Mayor and Chief claimed to agree with 35 of 51 policy recommendations (69%), though often misinterpreting or failing to address parts of the recommendations. The major theme of disagreement is the Bureau's insistence they need "flexibility" to use various kinds of force, including multiple Taser cycles, unleashing police dogs simultaneously with other force options, and firing "beanbag" guns from less than ten feet.
An analogy: While many people oppose the existence of pornography, society has agreed to tolerate a certain amount of it, so long as it does not involve children. What the community is asking is that we don't want any police violence, but if they are going to use it, there have to be limits.
The City insists that the IPR and CRC were, in the Mayor's words, "established in an effort to increase the transparency and fairness of the Police Bureau's complaint-handling and discipline processes, not to supplant those processes or relieve the Police Bureau of the responsibility of holding its own members accountable."
We believe that the civilian oversight system was set up to supplement the Bureau's processes, not merely to increase transparency and/or review Internal Affairs (IA) investigations. People do not trust a system where police investigate other police, no matter how good it might be, it is fundamentally never going to gain community trust until the system is fixed.
Regarding the "Police Oversight Stakeholder Group," which met from May to September 2010 under the auspices of Commissioner Randy Leonard (and included the Auditor, IPR Director, and Chief--PPRs #51-52), the Auditor agreed with 16 of 41 of those recommendations (39%) disagreeing with 13 (32%). The Mayor and Chief disagreed with 19 of 41 recommendations (46%) and "agreed" with 14 (34%). Many of their arguments are in apparent deference to the Auditor and/or City Attorney's closed-minded idea that citizens should not be able to decide whether or not officers were out of policy... even though the Chief and Police Commissioner retain the final say on discipline in every proposed scenario (also see IPR article, this issue). Dozens of other recommendations came from the CRC's IPR Structure Review report and the AMA Coalition.
The public was told the IPR would be assessed one year after it created in 2001; that assessment finally came in January, 2008 (PPR #44). Next, the community watched as Leonard, Griffin Valade and IPR Director Mary-Beth Baptista made changes to the IPR ordinance behind closed doors that were passed in March, 2010 (PPR #50). The Stakeholder group was then created to ensure the changes to the CRC, and further changes to IPR, would have community input. The fact that so few changes were proposed and adopted after all that work is, to say the least, disappointing.
Specifically PCW had hoped that Council would, among other things:
--Reject the insertion of the "conference committee" into the appeals process (Auditor ordinance change);
--Pledge to change collective bargaining agreements to allow IPR to compel officer testimony so they can conduct independent investigations and gain community trust, and to ensure IPR's role in shootings and deaths investigations;
--Support the Auditor's efforts for independent legal counsel to avoid conflicts of interest with the City Attorney;
--Broaden the ability of complainants to file appeals with the CRC;
--Increase the size of CRC to encourage more race, gender and ethnicity diversity (perhaps adding two non-voting members); and
--Direct IPR to take surveys from complainants to better understand what they want from the oversight system.
As to Bureau policies, PCW strongly urged that Council:
--Impose restrictions on unreasonable uses of force including Tasers and shotguns on mortally wounded subjects;
--Support the idea of an independent prosecutor for police shootings and deadly force cases;
--Encourage independent autopsies after police shootings, to avoid the apparent bias of the state Medical Examiner;
--Have the Police Review Board examine all cases where injured suspects are taken to the hospital, not only when they are admitted;
--Directly involve community members in forming training protocols;
and, in light of events at Occupy Portland (see article, this issue), re-examine the concept that an officer's mere presence is a low level of force, so officers appearing in riot gear, on horseback, with batons, and threatening the use of chemical agents should not be referred to as "peaceful" or "restrained."
At the November 16 hearing, about 20 community members testified; ten of them had been part of the Stakeholder group; all urged stronger changes. Six people affiliated with the Occupy movement related accounts of police misconduct against demonstrators. Two members of CRC testified in favor of changing the standard of review. Two Citizen Crime Commission members were joined by the Training Division Commander to ask for a police training facility. Not a single person testified that the existing documents were adequate as presented.
At the second hearing on November 30, about 12 people testified, again including many associated with the Stakeholder Group and several from Occupy Portland. When Commissioner Nick Fish asked PCW's Dan Handelman why the Auditor should have outside counsel when no other agency has that ability, Handelman replied: "We're talking about the only agency where your employees are putting their hands on or using weapons against citizens and could injure or kill them." After community input, the Mayor let Director Baptista and Deputy City Attorney David Woboril testify at length about why they disagree with many of the community's demands. At Fish's prompting, they claimed that changing the CRC's standard of review would "fundamentally change" the entire system. While we don't believe that is true (CRC would still be reviewing the Bureau's findings and making recommendations), it would be nice to see a fundamental change take place.
A third hearing on December 8 included powerful testimony from more participants of Occupy Portland, but the Mayor kept cutting them off, saying their stories were not relevant-- even though the topic was police accountability! The final hearing, on December 14, featured another huge contingent of Occupy Portland, whom the Mayor again interrupted. The hearing concluded on an emotionally devastating note from Fred Bryant, the father of Keaton Otis (shot 23 times in May 2010 by the PPB). Bryant said we need more independent oversight because, in his son's case, the evidence the City has and what he has "do not match." At the hearing's end, the Mayor added an "emergency" clause so the Council's eventual 4-0 vote put the changes into place right away, and the vote can't be challenged. Despite his intimate involvement in the Stakeholder group, Commissioner Leonard said just one word when the vote came: "Aye." Perhaps the Council was following the Auditor's lead: In discussing the proposals, she told PCW and the League of Women Voters "if we said no, the answer is no."
Portland Copwatch Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability
through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.