New Report on Portland Police Shootings Calls for More Oversight

On September 2, Portland's Independent Police Review Division (IPR) released the second report by the L.A.-based Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) on Portland shootings and deaths in custody. While PARC made useful recommendations and alarming discoveries, there are still many questions unaddressed. Some of these missing pieces include racial disparity in shooting victims, the names of officers and victims involved, and the shooting of Justyn Gallegos by Portland Police and three other agencies (see PPR #22), which occurred in the period covered by this report, July 2001-December 2002.

PARC recommends improving the quality of investigations because of the "overriding concern...of a strong disinclination by [Portland Police] investigators to find that a shooting was unjustified or that the officers' performance was deficient in any way." Four of the fourteen shootings covered in the report were never reviewed by senior management.

PARC re-emphasized the need for civilian involvement in these cases, including a non-police participant to track the investigation from the get-go (2003 recommendation #5.15). The Oregonian honed in on the recommendation for more non-police involvement with a headline "Police need civilian oversight" on September 3. They highilght PARC's statement that "A recurrence of biased investigations....raises the questions as to whether a fair and balanced process and result can be reached without oversight by an outside agency."

One key element: the report suggests officers wait for a supervisor and backup before extracting unarmed people from cars (#2005.5). PARC cites three cases in which unarmed drivers "tried to escape" in 2000-2001. Two times, officers inappropriately reached into the car, and two times officers tried to extract suspects without help. PARC blames such tactics in part for the shootings of Kendra James in 2003 (PPR #30) and James Jahar Perez in 2004 (PPR #32). In March, 2001 the Review Level Committee recommended that a training bulletin address officers reaching into vehicles to extract suspects; such a bulletin was never issued. In other words, the Bureau's failure to follow through on its own policy review may have led to the death of Kendra James.

For the most part, PARC is holding the Portland Police to the 89 recommendations from its first report in 2003 (which covered January, 1997 to June, 2000--PPR #31). Those recommendations and some of the ten new ones include many common sense suggestions which community members have advocated for years.

[PARC report cover] In the new report on police shootings and deaths in custody, PARC also:

--raised the critical question of whether statements compelled for administrative review will invoke immunity for officers in the criminal investigations;

--reviewed the shooting of José Mejía Poot in a psychiatric hospital (PPR #24), recommending that (a) police not respond to non-criminal calls from hospitals (#2005.6) and (b) officers on criminal calls be "equipped with less-lethal weaponry." They did not suggest a prohibition on taking firearms into hospitals;

--did not clearly analyze either of two situations in which police inappropriately shot at African American men (Bruce Browne and Tyrone Waters--PPR #25);

--noted at least five of the cases involved people in emotional crisis, wisely recommending Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for all officers. Because this idea was buried in the body of the report and not highlighted, the Oregonian referred to the proposal as "the 100th recommendation" in a September 10 editorial, praising PARC and stating CIT training "would cut down on police-involved shootings."

PARC also made new suggestions that:
--supervisors should review work done by detectives (#2005.9). PARC found deficiencies such as: Witnesses who were not interviewed, leading questions, and attempts to influence witnesses' perceptions;
--the Bureau should set a deadline for implementing the "Early Intervention System" to flag trouble officers (#2005.1), which will not be ready until spring, 2006 or sometime in 2007;
--police get medical aid to the wounded (#s 2005.7&8), as raised in the community response to the James case. In three of the 14 cases, medical attention was withheld for up to 90 minutes.

One disturbing fact is buried within Chief Foxworth's "matrix" responding to the original 89 recommendations. Foxworth rejects PARC's recommendation regarding keeping files for the new "Use of Force Review Board," (UFRB-2003 #6.11). The UFRB consists of seven officers and two citizens who scrutinize shooting cases. The Chief wrote, "the citizen members were concerned that their names would be made public," indicating that these citizens, whom the community has labored for years to get into the review process, will remain anonymous. How can a system like this be open, transparent and accountable?

As with the 2003 report, the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) of the IPR was not allowed to review the report before its publication despite the Ordinance's direction that "The Director and the CRC shall address any policy-related or quality of investigation issues that would warrant further review" (City Code 3.21.070[J]).

Generally speaking, PARC encourages more external oversight of police shootings and their investigations since the deficiencies could "undermine public confidence in the PPB's ability to investigate itself, in cases where most reasonable observers would conclude that there is little doubt about the fact a shooting is justified." We look forward to the City taking action on their recommendations.

Our 9-page analysis of the report notes that far fewer of the recommendations were actually enacted than claimed by Chief Foxworth (19, not 78). It is posted at http://www.portlandcopwatch.org/parc2005analysis.html.


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