Portland Copwatch Analyzes Compliance Officer Report on US DOJ Agreement July 2019

Table of contents
Checking the Boxes Instead of Analyzing the Outcomes
Damning Community Survey Downplayed by Authors and Compliance Officer
Ressessing the Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing
Timeliness of Investigations: Clarity Needed
Other New Assessments: Force Audirs and Crisis Intervention

Portland Copwatch
  a project of Peace and Justice Works
  PO Box 42456
  Portland, OR 97242
  (503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
  e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

COMMENTS: Compliance Officer Assessment Report Leaves Just Six Areas Until Bureau Meets DOJ Standards
an analysis by Portland Copwatch, August 6, 2019

In early July, the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL) released its analysis on the progress of the City and Portland Police Bureau (PPB) in meeting the requirements of the 2012 Settlement Agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The draft report ( https://www.portlandcocl.com/reports/2019/04/02/compliance-and-outcome-assessment-remaining-sections- 7s77g) continues to find the Bureau in "Substantial" compliance with most every one of the 80+ substantive paragraphs requiring changes to policy, training, oversight and outreach in order to reduce use of force (particularly against people with mental health issues). The COCL ignores that just three weeks before the report came out, the PPB shot and killed David Downs, a man in mental health crisis-- at least the fifth such person to die at their hands in 9 months.*- 1 But then, the COCL, DOJ, the PPB, the Chief, the City Attorney and the Mayor's office seem to think these deaths are just part of the cost of doing business with police. The April COCL report moved 13 of its 27 paragraphs under review to Substantial compliance, leaving 14 items for review this time. According to the Compliance Officer, only six of those 14 still need work. Part of the reason for this is the continued trend of giving too much credit to the City when the efforts have not had enough time to prove effective. Another reason is that everyone seems to want to just get the whole effort done with. The Skanner reported on July 22 that the DOJ is thinking of declaring the City in compliance by the end of the summer.*- 2 We noted PCW was one of two organizations to comment on the January report; we were the only ones who submitted comments in April.

Because of the narrow scope of the Report-- despite a new format promised less than two years ago in which each quarterly report would focus on a different area of the Agreement-- there is no update on stop data collection, most use of force information, the Employee Information System or the PPB's efforts to interact with the mental health system. As with the previous report, the only focus on the accountability system has to do with how quickly investigations are completed (required to be 180 days in Agreement paragraph 121), not whether people are satisfied with how their complaints are handled or the outcomes. In fact, even though the Report is supposed to cover compliance and outcomes, the only data table in the entire document is related to how many complaints were closed or referred over the past year [p. 19].

Portland Copwatch (PCW) put out some preliminary concerns about the new report in comments to the Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing in advance of its July 23 meeting; some of those comments are repeated here. In PCW's new analysis, find page numbers in [brackets] and paragraph numbers in (parentheses).

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One example of where the COCL gives the City full credit for something that hasn't fully come to fruition has to do with the "Independent" Police Review (IPR) which handles complaints. According to paragraph 128, IPR and the Bureau's Internal Affairs division (IA) are supposed to "develop and implement a plan to reduce time and effort" in investigating complaints. The Report credits Interim IPR Director Amanda Lamb and IA for creating some criteria which are supposed to help speed up investigations. The Report is clear that either those plans haven't been implemented yet or haven't been in place long enough to see results. Moreover, the new IPR Director began work at the end of July and isn't necessarily beholden to the interim plans.

Part of the plan which raises concerns allows IPR to do triage up front, deciding which cases are likely to result in a finding, including taking into consideration whether a person has filed multiple complaints. Like the boy who cried wolf, it would be very dangerous to let it be known that those who complain a lot are not considered legitimate-- because that would encourage the police to commit acts of misconduct, knowing the system will not believe the complainants. The Report does indicate that IPR conducts preliminary investigations to prevent this kind of discrimination, but PCW would like more details on what criteria are used to close complaints. For years we opposed IPR being able to use "cannot prove misconduct" as a reason to dismiss a case, since they would need a crystal ball to know that until the investigation was completed. That reason to dismiss was removed from City Code in 2016, and this new screening appears to be designed to put it back without Council approval.

Regarding the PCCEP, the COCL also takes a "checkbox" approach to whether the City has supplied sufficient staff (144). The people who helped PCCEP for most of its first seven months were all, in essence, temporary staff, with a new project manager starting on July 1, the day after this report's covered time frame. Yet the COCL considers the City in substantial compliance, recognizing that a promised community organizer position*- 3 is not required by the Settlement Agreement but could be hired in the near future. It seems that some of the issues around the PCCEP-- lack of attendance at meetings and the sometimes slow progress of making recommendations-- could be helped with more focused and dedicated staff.

The COCL also gives themselves a high mark for creating metrics by which to measure whether the PPB is successful in it Community Engagement and Outreach (149). The metrics created in conjunction with the Bureau and the DOJ mostly consist of saying "look at the Bureau's website and social media for evidence." It would be important to see a report based on this metric and compare it to the annual community surveys (146) before declaring Substantial compliance here. Also, part of paragraph 149 is PCCEP involvement in developing the metrics. They were handed to the Committee on May 28, which led the COCL to their "Substantial" rating, even though PCCEP did not have a long time to make recommendations or take public input about the plan. The DOJ, COCL and Bureau had five years to come up with their recommendations.

On the other hand, there are other places where the COCL says they will not sign off on "Substantial Compliance" until the PPB has taken action. For instance, they want to see the Bureau implement the procedural justice scenario trainings referred to in Training paragraph 84, even though that plan has been designed to fulfill the City's obligations under the Agreement.

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Rather than go into substantive details of the community survey conducted in January and published during the second quarter (the timeframe of the Report), the COCL analyzes the work of DHM in an appendix. The Compliance Officer's analysis is rather dismissive of some of the alarming results of the report, especially that people who personally or within their family call police to deal with a mental health crisis have worse experiences with the officers than the general public. African Americans and Native Americans reported very low ratings for actual contacts. While 88% of all people thought police treated them fairly when they called for help, only 35% of African Americans thought so. When police initiated the contacts, only 31% of Native Americans (whose sample size was diminished from 4% to 2% to "weight" the answers) felt they were treated fairly, compared to 78% overall. This is not just "worrying," as DHM put it, it is alarming. The COCL (and, to some extent, DHM) focuses on the overall results of the survey which show the general population feeling satisfied with their contacts. The harshest words the COCL uses is to tell the PPB to "be sensitive to the groups" which gave them poor ratings.

Besides vulnerable communities being far less likely to think the police treated them fairly in actual contacts, they also believe they are generally more likely to be treated unfairly-- including through the use of more force. 85% of Native Americans and 74% of African Americans think the police may stereotype them because of their race, a number which is 55% for Latinos and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders. But the COCL has, since its first report came out in 2015, dutifully avoided a deep dive into whether and why the PPB is perceived as having issues with race, not to mention failing to adequately make recommendations to fix that problem.

Other findings which were not highlighted include that 33% of respondents thought police are honest and 32% felt they are not, while 30% think they are building trust in the community but 34% think otherwise.

Earlier in 2019, the Bureau released its own survey connected to its five year strategic plan, which had many similar findings. DHM briefly touches on the Bureau's survey, noting that areas in which the two surveys agree are important to focus on. PCW agrees: the same issues around racial profiling, use of force and mistreatment of people with mental illness are present in both polls.

Two things are clear from the survey: One is that the police treat certain communities with less dignity and respect than others, and two is that the PPB and all the experts hired to examine their problems fail to recognize that reality as the number one priority which could be rectified in order to repair community trust. It is our experience that Rosenbaum and Associates, DHM and the Coraggio Group (which did the PPB's survey) are mostly-- if not entirely-- made up of European Americans.

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In June, federal Judge Michael Simon declined to approve the structure of the PCCEP, noting that he had previously approved of the original DOJ-related oversight body, the Community Oversight Advisory Board, and that body was dismantled by the city after just two years following infighting including between board members and the COCL. Fortunately, PCCEP co-chair Lakayana Drury told Judge Simon that the members of the new Committee are committed to doing their work regardless of whether the court gives final approval or not.

The Compliance Report, to its credit, holds back on finding the PCCEP in substantial compliance in three areas: Their overall role in making recommendations including the community engagement plan (142), the extent to which public outreach is being carried out (145), and the use of the DHM survey to inform the engagement plan (146).

The COCL also continues to give the Bureau a "conditional" compliance rating for generating its annual reports (150), even though they failed to hold any of the Agreement's required meetings after the 2017 report was published in early 2019. The City claims the Bureau will hold the requisite meetings in each of the City's three precincts and a City Council hearing once the 2018 report is finalized. A draft of that report was presented to PCCEP shortly before its June meeting. Portland Copwatch has been vocal in asking the PCCEP to demand that City Council allow public testimony when those reports are presented, which would make sense given the whole point of holding the hearings is to build community trust and open a two-way dialogue. The COCL has not weighed in on this question, which is fairly urgent due to Mayor Wheeler's blanket policy of not taking public testimony on reports of any kind. We look forward to the COCL modifying its report to state that City Council must take public input to comply with the spirit, not just the letter of the Agreement.

All things considered, the COCL should follow Judge Simon's lead and wait to see not just whether the PCCEP makes recommendations, but whether the Bureau acts on them and whether they lead to improved outcomes before granting Substantial Compliance.

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In the analysis of paragraph 121 on timely misconduct investigations, the COCL says that 130 investigations were completed in the first five months of the year, and 25% of them took more than the maximum 180 days. The paragraph intended to explain that IPR's compliance was 53% which is lower than IA's 78% is a bit confusing but means the civilian agency isn't as quick at finishing cases as its Bureau counterpart. The COCL argues for finding compliance with the "spirit" of the paragraph in cases such as officer involved shootings, complaints with multiple allegations and/or a large number of witnesses and officers to interview. PCW has always argued that the quality of the investigations should be more important than the timeliness, though achieving both would be ideal.

In looking at paragraph 128, the COCL says that the number of allegations turned into "Precinct Referrals" doubled in 2019, but that number went from about 5 to about 10. While technically doubling, that is not a large increase in raw numbers. PCW continues to be concerned about Supervisory Investigations and Precinct Referrals which leave the police explaining to community members why officers behave in certain ways, rather than coming from a community perspective which might lead to changing those behaviors based on the complaints.

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So far we have covered nine of the 14 paragraphs from the Report. Three of the remaining five were linked together by the COCL: the Audits of officers' Force Reports (75), supervisors' After Action Reports of force incidents (74), and the reviews up the chain of command of those reports (77). The COCL reports that the Force Inspector started using a new form to identify issues around policy, training, equipment or personnel in March, but gives full Substantial Compliance before observing whether this is useful or has been made a regular practice. This was the only concern on the three paragraphs the COCL raised in April. The final paragraphs are also linked, having to do with the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team, specially trained officers who are supposed to be called out to certain incidents involving mental health. Paragraph 99 on creating the ECIT and 115 on making sure there is appropriate triage when calls about such incidents come into 911 were both upgraded to "Substantial" compliance with new training given to the Bureau of Emergency Communications in April. Again, there has not been enough time to see whether the new training has led to the desired outcomes, and we say the COCL is just phoning it in at this point.

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Portland Copwatch has always felt that the DOJ Agreement is not adequate to fix the problems of excessive force, racial bias, harm to vulnerable communities, and other issues that we have been monitoring for over 27 years. However, we strongly believe that if the City made a commitment in federal court to make changes, and claimed those changes will result in better outcomes, someone should be actively holding them accountable for taking that work seriously. Certainly the COCL has pushed back on the Bureau here and there, but overall we are left with the feeling that the Parties are all so far removed from the actual experiences of people on the street that they wouldn't know whether improvements were happening even if they were shown body camera footage of rude, violent, racist, classist behavior being done in their names by people who carry guns, Tasers, pepper spray, batons and other weapons of urban warfare. We are encouraged by some of the independent actions being taken by the PCCEP but are concerned that their future could look like their predecessors' if the Agreement is declared done and the City wipes its hands of its ongoing obligations. For now, the promise that there has to be at least one year of Substantial Compliance before the court releases Portland from the Agreement is the best we have. In the meantime, we continue organizing for change outside the DOJ Agreement and its various affiliated committees. We hope that our work along with other community efforts will lead to a more just and peaceful city.

SIDE NOTE: As has happened before, the COCL refers to the "PBB" in page 10 (instead of "PPB").

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*1- A sixth person in mental health crisis (in a ten month time frame), Lane Christopher Martin, was killed by the PPB on July 30.

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*2- https://www.theskanner.com/news/northwest/28866-pccep-continues-oversight

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*3- PCW believes the Council's founding document for PCCEP implies a promise to hire a community organizer.

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Posted August 8, 2019