Portland Mercury Jan 4

Police Accountability Campaign
Re-Files Initiative

On March 15th, Portland's City Auditor Gary Blackmer released a report proposing changes to the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC). His proposal calls for the citizen committee, which audits police Internal Affairs Division (IAD) investigations of alleged misconduct, to turn all of their review functions over to a staff of two administrator/investigators. Those staff people would be limited to reviewing IAD investigations, conducting independent investigations only in certain circumstances, and helping to determine the finding. The citizen body would just review the work of these staff members and forward the occasional citizen appeal to some third-party "adjudicator" to settle disputes between the staff's recommendations and the IAD's. To say that his report missed the mark is giving it too much credit.

The Auditor's report stirred only a few questions from City Council at a March 20 "work session." The Mayor's work group majority report (proposing that PIIAC be granted real powers such as independent investigation) and the minority report (proposing a few procedural changes to the board), were barely mentioned. The Auditor's put-downs of other cities, exaggerations of the costs of an independent board and claim that he incorporated 19 of the Mayor's Work Group majority report recommendations went unchallenged. (In fact, his proposal included only four elements as written, six with modifications, and four elements with the opposite recommendation from the majority, including his suggestion that the board not review police shootings and deaths in custody.)

Just two months earlier on January 11, Council held another "work session" where members of the work group presented the reports. At that session, outspoken co-author of the minority report and Portland Police Association attorney Will Aitchison claimed that an independent review board would not only be "illegal" but also cost the City in excess of "seven figures" (over a million dollars). Ray Mathis of the Citizens Crime Commission (a Portland business consortium which "advises" the police and private security downtown) claimed that people who file complaints against the police would never be satisfied, implying that all complainants are criminals unhappy for being arrested.

On the other hand, members of the work group majority pointed out the problems with leaving the investigation of police misconduct in the hands of the police. They expressed why people who felt they'd been abused by police would be reluctant even to file a complaint at police headquarters, where IAD is located. They also pointed out that the City Attorney had explicitly stated that an independent review board could be formed by the City Council delegating some of its authority to citizens. And, while they were not asked for exact figures, their report notes that a similar review board that exists in Minneapolis only costs that city about $500,000 a year to operate.

The Mayor concluded the meeting by announcing that Auditor Blackmer would research other review boards, although an abundance of such research was already conducted by the PIIAC work group.

In a surprisingly strong editorial on January 15, the Oregonian declared that "Portland deserves a system of investigating police complaints that will be independent and authoritative...Although it's true that the Portland Police Bureau has hurt itself over the years by cultivating secrecy, there's not necessarily any personal venom in the distrust citizens instinctively feel when police investigate themselves...The idea that internal affairs investigators will be more prone to bias, and to the equally trust-eroding appearance of bias, than independent investigators doesn't even reflect poorly on police officers. It's just Human Nature 101."

The Council held a public hearing on January 17, in completely packed council chambers. The majority and minority reports were officially accepted, but the substance of the reports was not voted on.Reporting on the hearing on January 18, the Oregonian put the size of the crowd at over 160. It quoted Darleane Lemley of the League of Women Voters, a member of the majority group, who helped form PIIAC in 1982 and has watched it go through minor changes over the years. Lemley testified that "Tweaking the system will not produce the trust and confidence that is needed."

About 50 citizens, including a member of the Portland Police Bureau, testified that they wanted the Mayor and City Council to adopt the majority recommendations, and/or that they wanted an independent civilian police review board. Many told stories of being mistreated by police.

Only ten people stated that they wanted PIIAC to remain an auditing committee. Most of those were authors of the minority report and/or past and present police officers, including Officer Scott Westerman, who has shot two citizens in four years (see PPR #22). His most recent shooting was cited specifically in the majority report and in the Oregonian as a reason citizens need to be involved in reviewing police shootings.

At the end of the three-hour hearing, the Mayor showed the audience a report by Auditor Blackmer which found that most Portland citizens had confidence in the police, despite the fact that she'd just heard overwhelming testimony to the contrary. Then she repeated that Blackmer would continue to research other review boards.

Meanwhile, the Police Accountability Campaign has re-formed as PAC-2002. They launched a signature campaign to put a stronger version of the majority-recommended independent review board on the ballot in May, 2002. By the time the Council formally considers the Auditor's recommendations, PAC-2002 will have probably gathered a large number of the 27,000 valid signatures they need to qualify. Then the City will have to choose between doing the right thing-- adopting the majority report recommendations--or waiting for a long, drawn out, expensive public campaign in which the initiative will force them to adopt an even stronger review board.

For more details on the work group reports, which reflects work done from May to October, 2000, see PPR #22 or visit www.ci.portland.or.us/may or/piiac/majorityreport.html and Minorityreport.html .

For more info contact the Auditor at 503-823-4078, Copwatch at 503-236-3065, or PAC 2002 at 503-287-2255.

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