People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Changes Made to Accountability System: Public Input Retained, Review Committee Gets Shafted, Auditor Seeks Charter Change
On April 19, City Council voted to make changes to the "Independent" Police Review (IPR) and its Citizen Review Committee (CRC). The changes were initially proposed to speed up appeals of misconduct complaints, but nearly decimated community confidence. The IPR's proposal to remove public input from CRC Appeal Hearings was rejected when Council made an amendment by a 5-0 vote on April 13. Other issues remain, including some proposed by a Stakeholder group last year. Additionally, in May, Portlanders will vote on a proposed Charter amendment designed to give the elected Auditor, who oversees IPR, more independence.
Council's vote came after a few false starts last summer (PPRs #69 &70), two Stakeholder meetings (in November), and three delayed dates (February/March). The Auditor initially proposed to hold CRC appeals behind closed doors (August), and then to ban all public input during Appeals and the preceding Case File Reviews (September). The Stakeholder group was split between City personnel (including the City Attorney, the Police Association, and the Bureau) and community members on when to allow public input at hearings, with the community wanting input before CRC's votes. The City expressed concerns the Portland Police Association (PPA) would overturn disciplinary rulings if CRC were swayed by public testimony. However, the existing ordinance requires CRC to vote based on the information that's part of the record generated by the misconduct investigation. The April version would have allowed input--at the end of CRC meetings. CRC voted 9-0 on April 5 to retain public input as-is, which along with unanimous public testimony at Council led to the amendment allowing input before CRC votes. This was a historic win for the people.
The other main Stakeholders recommendation was to expand CRC from 11 to 15 members, but that was dropped because IPR claims they don't have the staff to manage four more volunteers. The request was made because CRC has been trying to meet the US Department of Justice Settlement Agreement's (unreasonable) 21-day timeline to hear appeals (article). In February, IPR admitted it no longer had a backlog of appeals, but CRC members are still feeling pushed to their limits and need relief to maintain a quorum of 5 people for hearings. Thus, Portland Copwatch (PCW) continues to push to allow the 16 members of the Police Review Board (PRB) civilian pool (article) to be a part of CRC appeal hearings if the workload gets too large again.
Not everything in the revised ordinance is troublesome: the IPR Director will be able to ask PPB to investigate cases in which they believe officers used deadly force, even if they weren't originally categorized that way. However, the new language calls it a "request" and the Bureau can say no. The ordinance codifies a name change for "Service Improvement Opportunities" (fka "Service Complaints"), but instead of calling them "Non-Disciplinary Complaints" (part of the definition), they're being called "Supervisory Investigations." IPR also put in a "Chief O'Dea clause," requiring the Bureau to notify IPR when an officer is charged criminally.
There's still no effort to allow IPR to compel officer testimony or investigate deadly force incidents, and the September draft's proposal allowing complainants to attend closed-door PRB hearings disappeared. There was no proposal to change CRC's deferential "reasonable person" standard to be "preponderance of the evidence." Most of these issues could have been addressed if the City had not negotiated the PPA contract behind closed doors on a fast-track vote last year (PPR #70).
The changes unfortunately re-inserted the Director's ability to dismiss complaints that are "trivial, frivolous, or not made in good faith," but conversely removed the old "crystal ball" dismissal which allowed him to dismiss a case if he thought misconduct could not be proven even if an investigation were to happen.
A third Stakeholder recommendation not to make any changes without engaging another stakeholder group other than restoring public input and expanding CRC was also ignored. Council pledged to hold a Work Session to consider further changes to IPR/CRC.
In early February, City Council unanimously voted to put Auditor Mary Hull Caballero's proposed Charter amendment forward to voters. Though the changes are significant, the document was still being amended the day Council voted. The Charter change would give the Auditor more autonomy over employees and budget. Caballero originally included IPR in her proposal (but not CRC). After hearing from a number of groups that locking IPR into the Charter in its current form was problematic, she dropped the provision.
The good thing about the proposal is it gives the Auditor more flexibility to hire legal counsel not tied to the City Attorney's office, which is necessary for true independent civilian police oversight.
The proposal permanently places the office of the Ombudsman, which investigates every city agency except elected officials and police, under the Auditor. PCW reminded Council that when we tried filing complaints against an IPR Director and Auditor in the past, the then-Ombudsman refused to investigate because he worked for the Auditor and was in the same office as IPR. Council added a provision allowing the Ombudsman to investigate others in the Auditor's office.
However, there is not a strong provision allowing external review of the Auditor's office-- the very function it serves to keep other elected officials in line. In 2008, Eileen Luna Firebaugh was hired by the City to conduct a review of IPR. Under the Charter change, it's not clear Council would be able to call for such a study in the future.
PCW tried to get a civilian review board, the Ombudsman, and the Human Rights Commission put into the Charter as independent entities by the Charter Review Commission in 2007 and 2011, but ended up as footnotes in both reports. The Commission is supposed to meet every 10 years, and the 2011 Commission was limited in time and scope. A new one should be convened this year to look at our city's "Constitution."
In sum, it would be good to strengthen the Auditor's independence, but not at the expense of having a way to oversee the Auditor's office, and it would be good to put oversight systems in the Charter, but not limit their abilities or permanently tie them to the Auditor.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.