People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Council Pushes Through Watered Down Changes to Oversight
System, Ignoring Community Input
As reported previously, Director Constantin Severe dialed back his claim that IPR could compel officers to testify, since they are part of the City just like the Bureau of Human Resources, which has that power. Over the years of community demands that IPR be able to compel officer testimony, there has always been an understanding the structure may need adjustments, including, perhaps, a change to the City Charter (PPR #56). Rather than explore this possibility, Council adopted the Auditor's compromise proposal, which requires that a Bureau designee order an officer to cooperate with an IPR investigator-- and, presumably, remain in the room throughout the interview. While Commissioner Steve Novick added language requiring the officer be ordered to both attend and answer questions (the original language said "and/or"), this system leaving IPR dependent on the Bureau will not satisfy community concerns, and likely does not fulfill DOJ's requirement for "meaningful independent investigations."
As an example, the Police Chief in Minneapolis was required by ordinance to act on the Police Review Authority's findings when officers were out of policy, yet there was no discipline over a number of years despite multiple sustained findings. Therefore, at the very least Portland's system needs consequences should the Chief fail to comply. Furthermore, a Bureau employee having to be present to tell an officer to cooperate with the investigation isn't too different from the previous system, in which an Internal Affairs (IA) member had to order officers to answer IPR's questions-- something Severe called "crazy" in October. On top of the structural disappointment, Severe told Portland Copwatch IPR is more likely to use the ability to compel officers (through the Bureau) for cases involving high-ranking officers, and not for community generated complaints.
As for the PPA, they complained at the January 8 Council hearing that they had not been approached to work "collaboratively" with IPR, even though, in theory, the vote originally set for December 18 was pushed back to allow the "union" to talk to folks in City Hall. PPA President Daryl Turner pretty much threatened legal action against the City if they enacted the changes, despite their anemic nature. Turner also indicated in earlier testimonies he believes IPR's investigations will be duplicative with IA, which is clearly not the intent of the City; this is one way in which the new system might at least lead to some streamlining of the process. (Also see "Rapping Back," back page.)
To his credit, Deputy City Attorney Mark Amberg cited legal precedents which show "management has the right to decide how it conducts an investigation of an employee and who asks the questions" (Oregonlive, December 18).
Changes to the Police Review Board, other than allowing CRC members to rotate on for force cases, include that the Chief has to explain to an officer in writing when discipline varies from the new "discipline matrix." This requirement is a far cry from IPR's October proposal that the Chief explain in writing to the Commissioner when he changes the PRB's proposed finding. So, if the matrix says you could give the cop a demotion or you could fire him/her, the Chief won't have to explain ignoring the 5-to-7 member Board's recommendation unless he opts for a suspension or less. Commissioner Amanda Fritz made a slight improvement by directing the Bureau to include in its semi-annual reports a cumulative number of times discipline imposed falls outside the recommended range.
The PRB's reports will also be expanded, but not enough. In the October version, names of officers involved in deadly force were to be published in PRB reports. In the final version, those names will only be published if they have previously been released by the City. The reports will also now contain the final discipline imposed in each case along with the PRB's recommendation.
Another unfortunate side effect, lifted from the DOJ Agreement, is that while the City increased the size of CRC from nine to 11 members (which PCW has supported for years), the new code dictates their quorum will be five of those 11 members. This could allow a small faction of the Committee to meet and make decisions without the knowledge or consent of the majority, creating unnecessary tension and confusion. (PCW has suggested raising the quorum to six and requiring CRC to take a 2/3 vote to delegate its authority to any smaller panel.)
Unsurprisingly, the changes do not address any of the issues in the DOJ Agreement which will either empower CRC or tie CRC's (and the community's) hands, including:
• The DOJ Agreement calls for authorizing CRC to require that IPR or IA conduct more investigation on an appealed complaint; this was put off for later implementation.
• The limiting proposal that CRC must hold appeals of complaints within 21 days is partially locked in by an amendment made by Commissioner Fritz, which requires the Auditor and Police Commissioner be informed when a case takes longer than 129 days to investigate. While appropriately intended to allow the complainant 30 days from receiving the findings to file a complaint, giving CRC 21 days to hold the hearing within the 180 day investigation limit, that timeline is still too short. (The City has since proposed expanding the 21 days to 45 days-- see article)
• The DOJ Agreement states that people involved in shootings/deaths incidents (or their survivors) can't appeal to CRC. The IPR ordinance is silent on this issue, which the community wants to see changed.
IPR Director Severe stated the changes needed to be made right away to help as many people as possible. Since many people could have been helped over the previous 12 years if a better system had been instituted back in 2001, that was poor reasoning to hurry these inadequate changes. The multiple amendments made to the ordinance, despite IPR's supposedly having worked on it for over a year, show that more time should have been taken. The December 18 version was only released for review five days in advance, and the amendments for January 8 were not posted by the City until January 3. Worse, Fritz, the only Council member expressing concern about the short timeline to fix the ordinance (Portland Mercury, December 18), took ill and had her first sick day in five years on the day of the hearing.
The situation looks grim, especially since the DOJ Agreement requires that any new oversight system has to conform to the parameters of the Agreement. While the powers that be keep saying more changes are coming, it is unlikely those changes will lead to meaningful oversight. Upon adoption of the new ordinance, Mayor Hales explained this rush to create new facts on the ground before the judge could hear community concerns: "I don't want to give anyone the impression that by waiting for the fairness hearing, we're ceding to the federal government. If we have to do this again sometime soon because part of this doesn't work out, we'll be ready" (Mercury Blog, January 8).
Auditor Griffin-Valade continues to portray Council as disengaged foot-draggers, but ignores both the pushback from the Police Association and ongoing cries for stronger reforms. Days before the Fairness Hearing, at a meeting of the City Club along with Severe and Chief Reese, Griffin-Valade made a strong statement: "The police bureau is an organization within the city that must have the eyes of all city officials on it" (Oregonlive, February 14). Severe also made remarks that IPR now needs to live up to, urging the City to speak to community members "like they're adults, not hiding behind state law or protocols. There's a lot of information we should be providing to the public.''
For all the hubbub around the "discipline matrix," it allows out-of-policy shootings with no aggravating factors to result in three weeks off, and treats lying as a firable offense... while as many as three aggravated Disparate Treatment offenses get a maximum of three weeks off.
At the Dec. 18 hearing, Commissioner Novick stated for the record that it was not the City, but US Attorney Amanda Marshall who was refusing to budge on the 21 day timeline for CRC appeals.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.