POLICE SHOOTINGS AND DEATHS IN CUSTODY REPORT
Tuesday morning, August 26, at 9:30 AM in City Council chambers, the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) will present its report on police shootings and deaths in custody in Portland from 1997-2000. While the report contains many useful recommendations and pieces of information, it lacks one of the key elements that already puts the police at odds with the citizens: a true connection to the community. Furthermore, Chief Kroeker's response to the report ignores current review mechanisms and community concerns.
Some of the major points highlighted in the report provide a useful critique of the Bureau's procedures in investigating shootings and deaths, including that they over-emphasize whether an officer's behavior may have been criminal instead of focusing on policy and training issues (p. 1).
Portland Copwatch, a grassroots organization promoting police accountability through civilian action, met with members of PARC and other community organizers in October 2002 to sensitize them to issues specific to Portland. Some of these concerns are reflected in the report, but overall there is much more work to be done. Portland Copwatch offers the following analysis based on a brief review of the 200-plus page report:
Key weaknesses in the report include:
1. Lack of Analysis of Police Interactions with Communities of Color
Although the report clearly shows that African American and Latino suspects are shot at twice the rate of their proportion to the general population, it concludes that there are "no indications of racial or ethnic bias" (p. 18). This is the totality of any such consideration given in the report to the role of race in these shootings.
2. Lack of Respect for the Community
In the overall report, the word "community" appears only about a dozen times and only once or twice in the context of how police actions may or may not build trust.
To their credit, PARC recommends that the Bureau should create a policy limiting the circumstances in which police can draw their weapons. They note that in Los Angeles, the policy states that "prematurely drawing or exhibiting a firearm limits an officer's alternatives, ...creates unnecessary anxiety on the part of the citizens, and may result in an unwarranted or accidental discharge" (p. 39). Chief Kroeker's response is to disagree with the recommendation, agreeing only to require an officer to report when a firearm is drawn (response p. 4).
3. Lack of Respect for the Process
While the review of police shootings and deaths in custody was one recommendation of the Mayor's Work Group on PIIAC (2000), the proposal to strengthen that review system included the citizens on the review board looking at such cases. In April, 2002, when the Auditor proposed that outside experts be called in to do these reviews, members of the new board, the Citizen Review Committee (CRC), indicated their willingness to take part. It was expected that they would participate in formulating recommendations based on the report.
However, the report was shared with the Police Bureau and the Chief for their response (a lengthy 28 pages), while the CRC and the general public were told they would not be able to see the report until 6 AM on the day it was being presented to Council. (Fortunately, someone in City Hall was kind enough to post it on Monday the 25th).
Chief Kroeker claims that the recommendations will be considered by the Community Police Organizational Review Team (CPORT), a group that was announced only after the shooting of Kendra James in May. The CRC's ongoing mission is to review police policies.
Independent Police Review (IPR) Division Director Richard Rosenthal, who promised the report first in April, then July, announced the release date in passing at the CRC meeting on August 19 at which 5 of the 9 CRC members resigned. The lack of openness and community involvement in this process is evident in the way in which the community was not allowed to participate in the recommendation stage.
The fact that Kroeker has made up his mind which recommendations to accept and reject prior to any public input (even from CPORT) underscores that this procedure is closed to the community.
4. Incomplete, Confusing and Contradictory Data
While the report tries to be comprehensive, it reduces the victims of police shootings to numbers. The citizens' names have all previously appeared in the newspaper and tracking specific cases to specific critiques would make the report easier to follow.
For instance, the case of Duane White, who was shot and wounded by an officer who burst into his home and saw him holding a machete. The report reveals that members of the Bureau recommended Officer Charles Anderson not be given an award because they felt by busting down the door, Officer Anderson was "violating procedures" (p. 161). The use of names and/or dates to illustrate this case would have made it easier to follow the narrative.
Similarly, the report insists that all 32 cases of police shootings and deaths in custody that happened between 1997 and mid-2000 were resolved, that is, there were no pending court cases or legal actions. However, the report only mentions two deaths in custody. One appears to be the death of Richard "Dickie" Dow, a mentally ill 39-year-old who died after a struggle with police in l998; the other appears to be Brian Penton, who died earlier that year after being pepper sprayed and "hobbled."
The problem here is that there is at least one more death in custody, Damon Lowery, who died in December 1999 after police shot him with lead-pellet bags and pepper spray. The extremely short section on these cases claims one of the two cases reviewed involved a person high on drugs (presumably Penton), the other, they say, was under the influence of alcohol. Since Dow was not reported to have been drinking, we wonder whether PARC conflated the Lowery case with the other two cases.
Furthermore, the study involves 30 Portland Police shootings from 1997 to June, 2000 (and two shootings by Clark and Clackamas County deputies). This figure contradicts the Bureau's Kendra James report, which shows only 27 shootings in the entire four year period of 1997-2000 (Kendra James Community Forum report, p. 11). There is no explanation for the discrepancy.
Such confusion undercuts the credibility of PARC's report, which is unfortunate again given that some of the recommendations are ones Portland Copwatch supports.
5. Reasonable Requests Ignored
On the part of PARC, several recommendations made by Portland Copwatch and other community groups were ignored.
For example, rather than recommending that every officer be trained to de-escalate situations using Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, PARC only recommended that CIT officers be better deployed and never divert from their tactics (p. 207). While these recommendations make sense, they do not go far enough.
One other recommendation was to get input from advocates in the homeless/low income community. Similar to the lack of analysis on race, there is no analysis of income status in the report.
Chief Kroeker similarly rejected reasonable requests from PARC. One was to add a citizen member on the Bureau's Review Level Committee, one of the few times PARC acknowledged that citizen involvement would help generate "renewed public confidence and community trust" (p. 146). Kroeker states that the IPR already exists for civilian oversight but that he is considering adding a Use of Force board as in Phoenix consisting of three citizens and three officers (response p. 17). The Chief is correct to note IPR's existence, although they are prohibited from reviewing shootings and PARC's future reviews can only take place two years after incidents have occurred.
Kroeker also rejected PARC's recommendation to stop referring to officers who provide back-up for colleagues who are deploying "less-lethal" weapons as "lethal cover" (p. 199). PARC makes a very good point that these officers will be more inclined to resort to deadly force if they believe that is their purpose for being on scene. Kroeker rejects changing the term, stating it is understood by police and the community needs to learn the difference (response p. 25).
6. Failure to Highlight Crucial Information
The report acknowledges the fact that the Bureau destroyed records on many of the cases PARC reviewed, simply relating that Bureau policy only required a one-year retention for most records. They did not cross-check Oregon State law, which requires such records be kept for 75 years, and recommended only a 25 year retention (p. 217). The fact that the report was supposed to be a thorough analysis of the Bureau's investigations and these records were destroyed is a huge issue and should not have been buried in the report.
Similarly, the report notes that in nearly half of the cases, the Bureau did not follow its own procedure in reviewing the actions of the involved officers (p. 159), and in 38 percent of the cases unit commanders and their subordinates did not file the appropriate after-action reports (p. 139). It states that ranking officers told them "There's not administrative review in this organization. People are afraid to ask hard questions. People are afraid to hurt feelings."
Such information should be highlighted in the executive summary (which, to its credit, notes lack of commitment to meaningful review and uses figures of 31 percent and 13 percent of cases lacking proper review) and brought to the public's attention. These are not meaningless statements made by disinterested parties. These are the officers who have the power to take away citizens' lives failing to hold one another accountable.
There are plenty of other, similar issues raised in the PARC report. We are very pleased with the documentation from other cities and some of the more directed, common-sense recommendations, despite the fact that the Bureau seems reluctant to act in a common-sense manner. We look forward to PARC releasing more detailed information, such as the names of the citizens and officers involved, as were released in a report following the shooting of Nathan Thomas in 1992 (noted on p. 214; Portland Copwatch can provide media copies of that report).
We hope to have time to review the entire document for a more complete analysis. In the meantime check out http://www.portlandonline.co m/auditor/index.cfm?c=27070& for the full report. For more information contact Portland Copwatch at 503-236-3065.
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Posted August 26, 2003