People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Chief Moose Cuts Loose-- Leaving Legacy of Mixed Messages
Portland Police Chief Charles Moose announced in late May that he would leave the Rose City to become police chief of Montgomery County, Maryland. Moose's last day here was July 28. While there are reasons Portlanders should celebrate Moose's departure, there are as many reasons to be cautious.
In his six year tenure, Moose has overseen or been directly involved in a number of disturbing incidents. Among these are: the "beanbag" incident in which African-American citizens briefly brought their protest to the Chief's house and then became targets of "non-lethal" shotgun blasts (August '98); the deaths of over 20 individuals as a result of police actions, including the developmentally disabled Dickie Dow (October '98); the Chief's temper flashes at media coverage of the Stephen Dons incident, despite the fact that the media came on the scene after three police officers had been shot (January '98); and, perhaps most significantly, the two cases which came to him from the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC) in which he rejected their findings of police misconduct (both in 1997--see PPRs #13, 14, 15, 16 and 17).
It is important, however, to recognize the systemic nature of police abuse, misconduct, brutality and corruption. No matter who runs a department without safeguards protecting the community, there will always be problems. We don't know whether Moose's permanent replacement will be better or worse. If we had a system of truly community-based policing, in which the people directly control policy, training, and enforcement issues as well as having an independent review board with the ability to do its own investigations, it wouldn't matter so much who the chief was.
That said, there are significant issues which Moose influenced as Chief. Probably the most positive was the creation of the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a group of about 100 officers who have been given 40 hours of training in dealing with potentially mentally ill citizens. The training involves ways to de-escalate situations, rather than the usual police tactics of sliding up the scale of the use- of-force continuum. While the number of incidents in which unruly" civilians are shot by police has decreased, CIT officers are not always on the scene. It seems logical that all 1000 officers be given complete CIT training.
On the negative side were Moose's angry outbursts, which effectively distracted the public and the media from the issues at hand. Moose lambasted the citizens of Northeast Portland and swore he'd move away, keeping the focus off the use of the "beanbag" guns; his tirade against news helicopters got more attention than the fact that Stephen Dons' naked, injured body was taken away on the back of a paramilitary police vehicle rather than in an ambulance.
In terms of the overall police practices, it is hard to judge what changes have taken place. It is clear from word on the street that racism still exists within the Bureau, and the occasional headline lets the public know that shootings, beatings, and other forms of police violence have not gone away. These issues reflect the racist, violent nature of the US government, and the nature of the legal system as it exists today. Fortunately, there is at least some lip service now to the issue of "driving while black," although the Chief didn't start talking about it until lawuits in other states brought it to the national agenda in March '99 (see story in this issue).
On a local level, it is important to remember the two cases in which Moose refused to agree with PIIAC. Both cases were sent to him by majority votes of City Council, who passed on recommendations from the PIIAC Citizen Advisors that there was police misconduct. Mayor Katz, who is both Commissioner of Police and the commissioner in charge of PIIAC--an apparent conflict of interest--was the only one to vote "no" in both cases. But because the review board's findings are recommendations, despite the fact that they come from our elected City Council, the appointed Chief was able to ignore those findings. When challenged to come before Council to publicly explain such cases, Moose refused. He claimed he might change a finding if an officer came into his office crying, and for him to report that publicly would "make a mockery of the system." Actually, the Chief's ability to cut off debate in Council about requiring his presence mocks the system.
Sure, the Council may have backed down because of Moose's quick temper. And Moose may have hung on to his job so long because it scores great public relations within Portland and around the country to have an African-American police chief. But as those of us who work on the issue of police accountability year-round know that most police are not European, Asian, African, or American, but they are police officers whose color is blue. Their power lies in protecting one another while protecting those in society who have power and money from those who do not.
Moose Shows Sensitive Side at City Club
On July 23, Moose spoke about "The State of Portland's Police" at the City Club, a policy discussion group made of local elites. Moose kept up his well established routine of mild controversy by gently chiding his liberal audience for expecting too many social problems to be solved by the police. The lecture began as a predictable laundry list of the Bureau's accomplishments. Moose credited the Bureau with reducing crime rates, but gave no consideration to the equally plausible hypothesis that steady economic growth and relatively high wages in Portland have deterred crime. Moose bragged that public complaints to internal affairs have significantly declined in the past few years. From the Chief's position this must seem a welcome relief. However, from our experience helping people navigate the confusing and demoralizing compliant system, it seems that such a drop in complaints is at least partially attributable to inadequate public knowledge of the current system, and the frequently justified belief that it is stacked in favor of the police.
The remainder of Moose's address was a welcome criticism of society's increasing reliance on the violent apparatus of the state to solve social problems. The Chief argued ardently for increased drug treatment programs in the community. According to Moose, who sat on the Board of Directors of CODA for years, treatment reduces the likelihood of re-arrest by 75%. Equally passionate were Moose's pleas to increase public investment in schools and affordable housing. He even made reference to the widening wealth gap and economic insecurity as part of the root cause of crime. Moose stated that if the City continued to hand the police money and expect them to do everything, they would gladly take it and try. But he argued that instead education and social spending should become higher priorities. Otherwise, he assured, the Bureau will get larger, arrests will increase, and the prison population will continue to skyrocket. In addition, he bluntly warned that failure to reinvest in the social safety net will create "more violent confrontations when the police go up against the people that you have decided to make have-nots." A pretty powerful statement to a group that included the Mayor, several City Commissioners and members of Portland's most powerful families.
Mayor Vera Katz initiated a nation-wide search for Chief Moose's successor, and held community "focus groups" and asked for input on her website (see below) to solicit opinions on what the public wants in a Chief. Copwatch was invited to the "advocacy" focus group, which included members of public defenders' offices, members of PIIAC, people from parole/probation and the District Attorney's offices, and one citizen who said he'd filed a complaint against the police.
Recognizing that we do not represent, "the community," we told the Mayor's people that we believe the following issues are vital:
1. A Chief committed to a Bureau free of corruption, brutality, and racism.
2. A Chief who is receptive to the idea of a strong, independent civilian review board. The new Chief should be aware of the current structure and functioning of PIIAC and realize that the public is in favor of a stronger, independent review body.
3. A Chief who actively solicits public input around policy and training issues. Populations that are strongly impacted by police practices- the poor, racial minorities, immigrants, the homeless and youth-should be contacted to create a police force that is truly committed to serving all civilians equally.
4. A Chief who respects local democracy. As an appointed public servant, our Police Chief should respect decisions arrived at by the democratically elected City Council. The Chief should also be willing to explain his positions publicly.
5. A Chief who is supportive of improved training for ALL officers in non-violent conflict resolution. Recent incidents between the police and citizens have underscored the urgent need for the expansion of this type of training. Interpersonal skills should be a higher priority than expanding the Bureau's firepower.
We then asked the search committee to continue to actively solicit the opinions of the public at large
all the way through the interview process. Shortly thereafter, the Oregonian solicited
opinions. The first two were from a representative of the business-oriented Citizens Crime
Commission and Portland Police Association/Oregon Police lobbyist Liz Cruthers. Copwatch
forwarded a notice to the Oregonian noting that we were sure they'd solicited opinions from
the homeless, Latino, African-American, Native American and other communities that have yet to be
published; we also sent them our five points listed above.
Copwatch reprinted 16 of the 63 responses received on the Mayor's website in June, representing about 25% of all opinions, which seemed to promote police accountability. Another 12 of the 63 (about 20%) were simply "nominations" or otherwise not substantive, so we believe the 16 we found reflect a significant sentiment of those who responded.
(1) ...open to an independent civilian review board, like Copwatch, which I believe serves an integral
function in Portland, and could serve as a forum for communication between the police and the
community.... (2) willing to break the "code of silence" and vigorously address the problem of
police corruption...(responses 3, 4, 5 and 7 mentioned an independent review board)... (6)...willing
to make his officers accountable....(8) ...more responsive to Portland's Gay & Lesbian population.
...I still hear complaints of police insenstivity and even harassment from friends and local
organizations. ...(9)...work on better relationship between the police and the citizens...(10/11)... the
ability to work with and help those with drug addictions rather than treat them as scum as the
officers on the force are encouraged to do now...(12)...sensitive to victims and womens
issues....(13)... proven skills in alternative dispute resolution as welll as the ability to deal effectively
with diverse populations...(14)... responsive to the citizens, not to fellow officers...(15, a police
officer's daughter).... Public service, interaction with the public, and mutual respect ...(16)...
experience working with the Hispanic community, and, preferably, speaks Spanish, as that
community is greatly under represented, ignored and much maligned in Portland.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.