People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Compliance Officer, City Hustle Use of Force Settlement Agreement Toward Finish Line without Community While Latest Report Emphasizes Lack of De- Escalation In late August, City Council voted to replace the moribund Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB) with a new civilian committee to oversee implementation of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Settlement Agreement regarding use of excessive force by police (PPR #72). Over four months later, the new Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing (PCCEP) has not been installed, trained or set to function. In addition, an expected annual status conference with federal Judge Michael Simon to follow up on the one held in October 2016 has not been scheduled. The major development around the DOJ Agreement was the release of the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL)'s latest report, looking at three quarters (rather than one or two), and combining both the Assessment and Outcomes reports into one long document. In the same way the City seems to be hurtling toward trying to get out from under the Agreement by pushing dozens of new policies (Directives) out for review (but being held up by community concerns about deadly force investigations), the COCL seems to be ready to stamp a seal of approval on the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) despite its shortcomings. In the new report, 21 more paragraphs were upgraded from "Partial Compliance" to "Substantial Compliance," now rating 48 in Substantial Compliance and 49 in Partial Compliance. This is despite the COCL's own analysis that the PPB is not training or engaging in de-escalation as envisioned by the Agreement, and what Portland Copwatch (PCW) noted were repeated themes of not enough information, the Bureau not doing enough, or the COCL not going far enough in its critique.
Underscoring the COAB's demise-- partially due to the structure that assigned the COCL as its chair-- the COCL called for a community forum to discuss the new report with just 5 days' notice. They published the report October 3, announced the forum October 11, and held it October 16 downtown in a City building. In contrast, the two previous forums were hosted at a community church by the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform in April and May on the last reports. The COCL team took up a good portion of the evening explaining the report's contents. A few issues arose: One, the COCL did not want to comment on the PPB shooting three young black men so far this year (p. 1) because race is a "touchy" subject; and two, when asked whether other jurisdictions have line officers and Sergeants in the same bargaining unit, COCL leader Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum said he was unaware that is how things work in Portland. This is after being in town nearly three years-- but then, since the team is from Chicago, it is to be expected. The context of that concern is on-scene investigations into use of force, which the Agreement requires to be done by the Sergeants, are not always forwarded to Internal Affairs (IA). In several cases, commanders thought there may have been excessive force, but felt the findings of the Sergeants' After Action Report would not change with more investigation.
Another issue related to accountability: The COCL seems pleased that IA and the "Independent" Police Review (IPR) are planning to have joint training and policies, even though that flies in the face of why civilian oversight is needed. To meet the Agreement's demand to eliminate duplication of effort, IPR has stopped interviewing civilian witnesses before sending cases to IA for investigation. Many people will not talk to investigators who are part of the Bureau, a truism which should be obvious to anyone looking at the dynamics of police misconduct.
A number of advisory boards barely make any recommendations (the Citizen Review Committee and Training Advisory Council) or have ceased to exist (the Community/Police Relations Committee and COAB). Thus, it is troubling the Behavioral Health Unit Advisory Committee (BHUAC), which meets in private, is still the body which has the most direct line of input into Bureau policy. The COCL report includes about a dozen sets of minutes from BHUAC meetings, but the team has dropped its previous call for the Committee to hold some meetings in public. The April report, revised and posted in July, noted the BHUAC voted twice to keep their meetings closed, based on concerns that "committee members may be guarded in their desire to openly discuss sensitive topics." In the new report, the COCL calls the secretive group an "avenue for gathering the input of community partners in delivering services."
In the 350+ pages of Appendices to the report, we learn some officers were found out of policy in force incidents, but for administrative reasons. For example, an officer who conducted a takedown failed to request backup, and another officer unholstered a Taser while their gun was still in their other hand.
With regard to the PCCEP, there has not been public acknowledgment from City Hall about a number of items mentioned by the Mayor as being the intent of Council, but which did not result in amendments to the PCCEP founding document. For example, the language says PCCEP shall "independently assess the Settlement Agreement," but the Mayor assured the community they meant the Committee will assess the implementation of the Agreement, a major issue that could neutralize the new board if not formalized. A job description for a PCCEP staffer posted in December does use this language, but drops the focus on "racial justice." PCW also noted to Council that the DOJ and the Portland Police Association (PPA), which is a party to the lawsuit, were not present to testify in August about the proposed changes to the Agreement. No doubt this means they will hash things out behind closed doors while many believe we still live in a transparent democracy.
The biggest issue, which led to a number of media articles, is that the PPB continues to use two different definitions of what "de-escalation" means: lowering force already being used AND calming a situation down without force. The COCL illustrates this problem well, including cases where the police used violence against demonstrators who posed no threat other than expressing verbal displeasure with the cops.
PCW keeps suggesting that lowering force after it has been used be called "mitigation of force" rather than "de-escalation."
The DOJ's main focus was on mistreatment of people with mental health issues, and even though the Unity Center only just opened as a "walk-in" facility for people in crisis in February and a "drop-off" center in May, the COCL declared the entire section on mental health services to be in compliance. This is even more frustrating as the PPB refuses to enter this psychiatric facility without their weapons (Portland Mercury , May 24), something that led to the tragic death of José Mejía Poot in 2001. A "Mental Health Mask" that was to help collect data on police interactions with persons in crisis was thrown out for a new "Mental Health Template" covering fewer encounters. Again, this has only been in service for less than a year, another example of a lack of information to find the Bureau in compliance. With the focus taken off race, the COCL does not examine the fact that 30% of force is used against African Americans in a city that is 6% black, nor do they note that the COAB's required input into racial profiling data and the 2009 Racial Profiling plan have gone completely unaddressed.
On community outreach issues, the COCL follows up on Bureau members who attended performances of the play "Hands Up," which examines perspectives of people of color stopped by police. Although officers report finding the experience transfor-mative, the PPB is insisting on "copsplaining" to communities of color, by collaborating on officer monologues featuring their points of view.
Overall, the combined report is quite confusing as it lists a compliance rating for each paragraph by number without explaining the substance.
Find Portland Copwatch's 8-page analysis of the 130+ page COCL document at: www.portlandcopwatch.org/COCL_semiannual1017_pcw.pdf
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.