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Citizen Review Committee Continues Changing Conventions

Big news at the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR)--in early June, Auditor Gary Blackmer announced the new Director would be Leslie Stevens, then an Assistant City Attorney in Salem, OR. Replacing former Assistant District Attorney Richard Rosenthal with another attorney is an interesting choice. One of Rosenthal's last acts was to release the IPR's 2004 annual report in late June (see sidebar). Meanwhile, the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) has continued to rewrite their policies and procedures, holding just one "pre-hearing" from April to August.

Stevens was chosen from a field of four finalists who were interviewed by City Council staff, IPR staff, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) representatives, and the CRC along with members of the public. She is from Oregon and has a good feeling about the need for community outreach. Members of Portland Copwatch met with Stevens in late July and she seemed open to hearing ideas from the community, as well as checking to be sure the IPR follows the ordinance as written.

[Stevens and Blackmer]

Rosenthal Changes Important Protocols on Mediation, Service Complaints

We wanted to bid a farewell to Mr. Rosenthal as he heads to Denver (see PPR #35) by reporting on some of the actions he took in his final two months in Portland.

First, as mentioned in the last issue, he and Auditor Blackmer attended a mediation with Portland Copwatch founding member Dan Handelman. While the subject matter of the mediation is confidential, suffice it to say that a productive conversation occurred, and Copwatch members will be meeting with Auditor Blackmer to examine the common ground and differences of opinions we share regarding the review system.

Rosenthal, as part of a package he tried to push through before he left, added Mediation as an alternative to public hearings for people who have filed appeals with the CRC. This idea is troubling for many reasons: first, it is not provided for by the ordinance. Second, it means a person who felt their case wasn't investigated thoroughly will not receive their ordinance-mandated hearing before the CRC, under whose purview all appeals are supposed to fall. Third, because Mediation is "confidential," taking this route will vacate the findings made by the Bureau as the result of the completed investigation. The Director had already approved one case on appeal for Mediation before bringing the idea to the CRC for discussion in June.

Much to their credit, the CRC opposed the Director's proposal to allow mediation of allegations which were "Sustained" (where misconduct was found). They noted that "Sustained" findings cannot be appealed by complainants, so why should they be part of a Mediation? Rosenthal, perhaps realizing he was performing in front of new Director Stevens, angrily reminded the group that their comments were only advisory to him. In July, it was announced that he and Blackmer had backed down and agreed with the CRC to exclude "Sustained" findings from appeal level Mediations.

The rates of satisfaction with Mediation for citizens and officers in 2003 and 2004 were roughly the same--about 70% of officers but just 50% of citizens were "completely satisfied" with the outcome in both years. This likely is a reflection of the fact that Mediation allows officers to avoid investigation by meeting face-to-face with the complainants in a confidential session; the complaint is treated the same as an IPR "Decline."

Another item of interest is that the CRC work group examining ways to improve the hearings process discussed ways to set up the meeting room. Normally, the IPR staff, Police Bureau members, and the CRC all sit around the same large round table. This has led to confusion among complainants, particularly since the IPR frequently agrees with the police. At the June meeting, CRC member Bob Ueland set up the room with a small gap between the Committee and the staff tables, moving the end table (where community members come up to speak) to the middle of the room. Even though this made the meeting flow better and the division of staff from the review board clearer, Rosenthal became visibly agitated. He claimed it was sending the "wrong message" because the IPR, police Internal Affairs Division (IAD) and CRC are all supposed to be working together in partnership. The issue has not yet been fully decided, but it appears the CRC is leaning toward keeping the split set-up.

Another seemingly minor but significant change proposed by Rosenthal and Deputy Director Pete Sandrock was the rewrite of the "Service Complaint" protocol. Service Complaints (SCs) are used for minor complaints that do not normally rise to the level of discipline. Until Rosenthal changed the rules in 2002, the complainant had to agree with that form of resolution for a SC to go forward. The 2002 change allowed the Director to treat a complaint as a SC over the objections of a complainant. In the new protocol, the IPR proposed removing requirements that staff should alert the complainant to the fact that they cannot appeal a Service Complaint.

At the May meeting, when CRC members called for the retention of the requirement, calling it a matter of "a fully informed decision," Director Rosenthal spoke adamantly against the idea ("I won't agree to it... I won't put it in the protocol"). Despite their concerns, the CRC ended up approving Rosenthal's change.

According to the IPR's annual reports for 2003 and 2004, Service Complaints are now used to resolve 55% of the cases which are not dismissed outright, up from 34% in 2002.

In a parting interview with the Willamette Week (July 6), Rosenthal listed his biggest mistake as releasing a confidential e-mail about police shootings. It's interesting he's so hung up on that, since the release of that information led to the discovery of missing files he needed to complete the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) shootings report (PPR #30). His last word is that "We have achieved more with the PARC shootings report in 18 months than policy accountability [activists] in Portland have achieved in 18 years." What that statement fails to acknowledge is that the IPR itself, thus both the PARC report and Rosenthal's job, would not exist without the work of Portland's activist community.

Final Word on Case 2004-x-003, the Pepper-Sprayed Protestor, and Policing Protests

Despite numerous protocols which should have allowed attorney Steve Sherlag to bring the case of the protestor who was thrown to the ground and pepper sprayed at close range (see PPRs #33&35) back to the CRC, Director Rosenthal single-handedly denied all efforts to do so. Most disturbing is that protocol 5.01-Citizen Initiated Complaints specifically states that "If the CRC chooses to defer its decision pending...further investigation by IAD, the appeal hearing will be rescheduled for another date." The IAD did take this case back for more investigation, and returned it to the IPR unfinished, yet the Director denied the hearing.

It was also revealed that despite numerous discussions about the three Excessive Force allegations which IAD was supposed to re-examine, IAD still had no idea what was being sought by the CRC.

[Grubbs and 
Ultimately, the specifics of the case got lost in a presentation by Assistant Chief Stan Grubbs and Central Precinct Commander Dave Benson at the June meeting on how the police handle protests. While Grubbs' Powerpoint show-and-tell exhibited a lot of progress since the days of Chief Kroeker, it also exposed several areas in which there is more to be done. For instance:

--The Bureau has not changed its policy for use of pepper spray since the May Day debacle in 2000 (PPR #21). The PPB says pepper spray can be used at any distance if "reasonably necessary" to avoid imminent physical injury. The ACLU of Oregon and the NW Constitutional Rights Center had members at the meeting who noted that use of chemical agents for crowd control is inappropriate and could have serious health consequences.

--A/C Grubbs stated that "everyone loves the bicycle police," yet those officers have used their bicycles to stomp the feet of and bodily push protestors on numerous occasions. It is true that bicycle police are much preferred to the Rapid Response Team, the mounted police, and officers on motorcycles and ATVs, but "love"?

--When the question was raised about non-permitted protests, Commander Dave Benson made it clear that the police seek to use any statute they can to issue citations to control non-permitted crowds. He mentioned "interfering with a police officer," which was deemed unconstitutionally broad, and "other tools" (like jaywalking tickets) to keep people on the sidewalk.

Overall, despite these shortcomings, the willingness of the police to examine and revise their tactics is encouraging.

Case #2005-x-003: Woman says officers were rude, used excessive force, threatened her ex -boyfriend

Case #2005-x-003 stems from two incidents involving a woman and her ex-boyfriend. A large number of allegations were made about the first incident, including, significantly, one which was "Sustained"--that officers conducted an improper search without a warrant or consent.

The second incident includes an allegation that Detective A threatened to shoot the appellant's ex- boyfriend. The IPR's summary of his interview indicates that the Detective admitted to this threat. Despite this fact, the finding was "Insufficient Evidence" rather than "Sustained." The CRC voted for a full hearing on this case; it will be heard in September.

Policy review questions

The CRC is reviewing its top ten policy issues for review and possible recommendations to the Bureau. This process is confusing and complicated, since the CRC used to have its own Policy work group to study the issues and is now required to allow IPR staff to conduct any review. Meanwhile, the IPR itself conducts separate reviews, or "audits," which are somehow differentiated from the CRC issues but have been included on the same list of 19 items the CRC started to whittle down at their July meeting.

Among these are:

--Training and Crisis Intervention/De-escalation,
--Use of Force and taking photos of suspects,
--Officer Identification (missing from July's version of the list), and
--The use of Tasers. (Added as item #20; see article for more on Tasers).

PARC Report Due Out in Late August

The new Police Assessment Resource Center report covering police shootings and deaths in custody from August 2000-December 2001 will likely be released in late August (after PPR deadline). Portland Copwatch encouraged PARC to review all shootings involving Portland Police in that time frame including the case of Justyn Gallegos, a young man who was shot in east county by the PPB, Multnomah County Sheriff's Office (MCSO), Gresham Police and Troutdale Police.

The IPR and PARC have refused to review that case, partially because they claim it would be too complicated to review files in other jurisdictions. However, when Portland Copwatch spoke with Sheriff (and former Gresham Chief) Bernie Giusto, he said he would welcome an outside agency to review the files on that case.

In a related note, when the City Council added shootings and deaths in custody to the IPR's purview in early 2002, members of the CRC were denied the ability to review those investigation files directly. The promise made at the time was that the CRC would be able to review the "expert" reports eventually farmed out to PARC before publication. This would allow the CRC to sign off on the recommendations or make their own comments to the City Council as allowed by the Ordinance. There has been no indication that the CRC will be looking at the report.

Auditor's Conflict of Interest in Assessment of IPR Leads to Confusing Process

When the IPR was created in 2001, Council members promised a review "after one year." The community has waited--June, 2002 (a year after the vote creating the IPR), October 2002 (one year after it was created), January 2003 (one year after the CRC heard its first case)...now it is September, 2005 and the Auditor's plan to have the IPR assessed by an outside expert has been built into the City's 2005-06 budget. A total of $60,000 is available to hire an auditor to see if the system is performing its intended functions. However, what's been left out is the ability for the community to weigh in on the system. The process to pick the "expert auditor" looks as if it might be convoluted. A committee, including members of a City Commissioner's office and members of the public, will choose a person who will then choose the "expert." All of this is to keep Auditor Blackmer from appearing to have influenced the outcome or from auditing his own program. One way to really make it clear that he is not controlling the process would be to open it up to the public.

For more info contact the IPR at 503-823-0146.

Vice Chair Irma Valdez resigned from the CRC in July, stating that she wanted to spend more time on her real estate business. Valdez's honesty and frankness when she saw apparent outrageous police behavior, racism, or inappropriate action by IPR staff will be missed. Hers is the 10th resignation from the body since it was created in October, 2001; four others left when their terms expired. A total of 23 people have served on the 9-member CRC in just under four years. CRC member Jerry Spegman was elected Vice Chair at the August CRC meeting (where nothing much else happened). A ninth CRC member will be picked when Valdez's term formally expires in December.


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