People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
US DOJ Agreement: City Drops Appeal, Hearing Held as City Botches New Community Board PCW Sends Analysis of Compliance Reports to Judge Simon, Police "Union" Confused by Using Less Force
The Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB), which was the main vehicle for relaying information to the public regarding the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Settlement Agreement on Portland Police use of force, has been defunct for over 14 months (PPR #71). The City approved amendments to the Agreement last August (PPR #72), but no further action was taken until December, when they dropped their appeal challenging Judge Michael Simon's request to hold a second Status Conference. The new Conference, which was accompanied by a Fairness Hearing to determine if the amendments are "adequate, fair and reasonable," was held on April 19. In anticipation of the hearing, Portland Copwatch (PCW) sent an analysis of the DOJ and Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL)'s assessment reports to Judge Simon in January. Rather than implement their planned replacement for COAB immediately, the City began orchestrating its own community forums, managing to take up all the time with their presentations and shutting down discussion of many community concerns.
The City dropped its appeal on December 27, during the week between Christmas and New Year's when nobody pays attention. Among the filings sent to the court was a memo from the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform expressing their concerns about the amendments and noting they agreed to the changes as a means to allow progress to continue. The main change, the creation of the Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing (PCCEP) to replace COAB (PPR #73), got stalled by a number of factors, including the first attempt to hire a project manager falling apart. The Oregonian reported: "The city's initial request for bid proposals apparently didn't draw enough 'quality responses'" (February 21). On April 18, two firms were picked to run the PCCEP together.
Rather than recruit community members to help or wait for PCCEP to start, the City decided to hold its own town halls. The first one, held downtown in a city building in February, was jam-packed with City officials: the City Attorney, the Chief, the head of Emergency Communications and the Independent Police Review (IPR) Director. To accommodate their presentations, the community's questions and comments were abruptly cut off several times. The second, held in March at a community space, focused on Mental Health issues-- a primary concern of the DOJ-- but still showed the City doesn't "get it," as use of force wasn't mentioned by the hour-long panel, only during public input afterward.
PCW's letter to Judge Simon began by refuting the DOJ's claim Portland Police shootings have gone down since they began their investigation in 2011. PCW showed there were five shootings in 2011, six in 2012, two in 2013, four in 2014, six in 2015, two in 2016 and 5 in 2017, meaning the average is just over four per year. Furthermore, we noted, most of those people were in mental health crisis. The DOJ also failed to note the amendments will remove the COCL as chair of the community board, one item which could have prevented COAB's dissolution.
PCW went on to analyze the ratings given to the Agreement's 97 substantive paragraphs by the reports. Forty-three paragraphs had changed ratings, with seven moving to Substantial in both DOJ and COCL's reports. PCW noted how both Parties called the Unity Center, Portland's mental health facility which only opened in May 2017, a reason to find the City in compliance with a paragraph calling for a walk-in/drop-off facility. Many in the mental health consumer community would strongly disagree. There were also five paragraphs where the DOJ found the City in Substantial compliance, but the COCL only found Partial compliance.
To their credit, both the DOJ and COCL noted that yelling at people is not a form of de-escalation. The DOJ also called out the PPB for violating the Agreement's provisions on Tasers and asked for data on use of force against crowds to be reported quarterly rather than annually (see p. 9).
In PPR #73, we pointed out the joint training for Bureau Internal Affairs detectives and IPR investigators would diminish community trust. It turns out the DOJ suggested the OIR Group (which also reviews officer involved shootings for Portland--p. 1) should train both groups at the same time.
At the Fairness Hearing, 17 community members (including four from PCW) testified about the limitations of the Agreement. Due to his limited power, Judge Simon approved the amendments, but ordered a Status Conference on October 4 to see how the PCCEP is running. This time, the City did not object to the additional Conference.
Previously, the Portland Police Association (PPA), a Party to the Agreement, made a stink about being unable to decide what is the right amount of force to use. After community backlash when an officer called for backup rather than intervene while a store clerk used a sword to defend herself against a person who attacked her with a knife, Officer Daryl Turner posted a piece titled "Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don't" on the PPA's website (March 16). He complained the DOJ came into town because the PPB was using too much force, and blames their reforms for making that officer unable to know he supposedly used too little force. This is particularly ironic because on December 15, Turner posted a piece to the Oregon COPS website saying the community should not draw broad conclusions about police based on individual cases.
With no public notice, the COCL changed its website to
In late 2017, VICE reported "Cities that voluntarily adopted DOJ-recommended reforms saw a
32% decline in officer-involved shootings in the first year, [but those] that were forced to take on
reforms through binding agreements with the DOJ saw [only] a 25% decline" (December 11).
Portland's average number of shootings has remained constant at 4-5 per year.
In late 2017, VICE reported "Cities that voluntarily adopted DOJ-recommended reforms saw a 32% decline in officer-involved shootings in the first year, [but those] that were forced to take on reforms through binding agreements with the DOJ saw [only] a 25% decline" (December 11). Portland's average number of shootings has remained constant at 4-5 per year.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.