Wheels of Police Accountability Grind Slowly at "Independent" Police Review Division
New member inducted, retreat held, still no new hearings

Portland's so-called "civilian review board," the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR) and its Citizen Review Committee (CRC) continue to keep busy without much to show for their work. Since late December, in addition to inducting their newest member, they held a day-long retreat in January and had a guest speaker on homeless issues. The IPR released the latest report on shootings and deaths in custody (see article), but the CRC has not made any policy recommendations of their own, nor have they held any hearings of appeals on police misconduct cases. Their January monthly meeting was called off due to snow, but that cancellation is not responsible for the overall lack of progress. Things may change, though, with five hearings coming up, tow policy recommendations nearly ready for approval, and a report on Use of Force due out.

Unappealing Qualities

IPR Director Leslie Stevens informed the CRC in March that the first citizen in 2007 who wished to appeal the outcome of their investigated complaint was requesting a hearing before the board. This person had been offered mediation rather than an appeal hearing. While Portland Copwatch supports mediation as an alternative to the regular complaint system, we have opposed the idea of replacing a hearing with mediation, not only because it violates the IPR ordinance, but because it means any findings against the involved officers will be thrown out and replaced with the finding of "Mediation." Fortunately, "not all parties agreed" to the mediation and a hearing has been set for the May CRC meeting.

In February, CRC member Sherrelle Owens questioned why there are so few appeals. The IPR does not include an appeal form when they send a "disposition letter" explaining the investigation's outcome to complainants. In March, with Owens absent, Stevens said that her reasoning is to allow complainants to make a "thoughtful decision." While Stevens shrugged and suggested that she was willing to change the policy, it was pretty clear that she prefers not having to deal with unsatisfied "customers." New CRC member Josey Cooper accepted Stevens' explanation. It remains to be seen whether more will be done to increase the number of hearings, which offer the CRC and the public a view of specific ways the Bureau interacts with Portlanders. In 2002, the CRC heard 60 cases. In 2003, it was just 20, in 2004, they were down to 9, and 2005 and 2006 had just 3 appeals each, with only one full hearing held in each year.

In April, four more appeals were announced and scheduled for full hearings at the May and June meetings, without the IPR's cumbersome "pre-hearing" process. Because of the previous lack of appeals, member Bob Ueland recommended that the CRC conduct a random audit of Internal Affairs files to ensure that cases are being handled properly. Even with the new appeals, this audit would be worth doing.

In other news, Sgt. Mitch Copp reported that the IPR refused to let an officer file an appeal of a sustained finding because the complainant, who happened to be a defense attorney, initially contacted the Bureau directly and not the IPR (Rap Sheet, March 2007).

Retreating from Responsibilities; Policy Recommendations Too Little, Too Late?

At the CRC's January retreat, Auditor Gary Blackmer, who oversees the IPR, and Director Stevens used the opportunity to present their limited views on how the CRC should function. Blackmer stated his opinion that the CRC needs to spend time crafting recommendations that the Bureau adopts and are then seen as successful, or else lose credibility. Considering that line officers malign the CRC's first policy recommendation­prohibiting gratuitous use of profanity­and the Bureau rejected their second one­to allow people who might otherwise be brought to Detox to be brought home if they are within a short distance­this seems a ridiculously high bar. Also, while the Bureau has adopted many of the PARC recommendations, most of them were adopted with significant changes and without public input (p. 1).

In reviewing the Bureau's towing policies, the IPR blocked a recommendation to provide sliding scale fees for towed vehicles. Director Stevens explained there weren't any complaints filed with them about costs and there was no public testimony on the issue. However, input was provided by former CRC member Theresa Keeney and Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman. The Tow Policy Work Group's recommendations are expected out in May. Interestingly, the Bureau participated in many of the Work Group's meetings held since May, 2006 and assured the CRC there were no changes in the works to the existing tow policy. However, in January when a new set of directives was published ( http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=32482), the tow policy was modified without the CRC's input. It is hard to tell if this was a bureaucratic SNAFU or just an FU to the IPR.

The Bureau also created a new medical transport policy without input from the CRC (see Chasse article).

Memberships Due

The newest CRC member, Robert Milesnick, was sworn in at the February 20 meeting. He took on a much-needed task at the retreat: Someone to list all of the ideas that come up at meetings and track their follow-through. We reported in PPR #40 that Milesnick had not made it into the FBI's citizens academy; at the February meeting, he announced that he was recently accepted.

Things may soon get interesting for Marcella Red Thunder, who was replaced by Milesnick after she missed five meetings and the Auditor didn't invite her to reapply for her seat because he "figured" she didn't want it (PPR #40). One board member, Remi Ogouma, has not attended a single meeting or work group since October (six months as of mid-April), yet the CRC does not yet have a protocol to remove members for lack of participation. Red Thunder spoke at the February CRC meeting, noting that many of Portland's 38,000 Native Americans--including what she says are 32 people who approached her personally with police complaints since she was removed from the board in January--are reluctant to file complaints because they do not see representation of their community.

In February, the CRC adopted new rules on voting for its officers, ignoring Portland Copwatch's suggestion to delay the election until April or May. Our idea would have allowed new members to participate in an informed way, maybe even run for office. Laughter abounded as the previous Chair, Vice Chair and Recorder were re-nominated and a motion was immediately made to close the nominations (with the exception of the Chair position, where a second member was nominated). So long as the CRC's officer positions are filled by momentum rather than careful consideration, the process appears undemocratic. Bob Ueland, the CRC member who quickly moved to close the nominations, also regularly makes motions to uphold Police Bureau findings immediately at appeals hearings (PPR #40).

Another Grassroots Presentation on Homeless Issues

At the March meeting, the CRC heard a presentation by Israel Bayer, the editor of street roots, a publication primarily by people experiencing homelessness. Among the policing issues he raised were: Reports of IDs, artwork, and other belongings being taken and sometimes thrown away; items being broken; police not respecting 24-hour anti-camping notices; and "Draconian" laws like sit/lie (see article). He recommended that unless a call regarding a homeless person involves violence, an outreach worker should be first called to the scene; that alternatives be created to the economic impact of criminal violations, as opposed to "pay x amount or go to jail"; and that the CRC attend a listening session at the street roots office to get a better perspective.

Bayer also emphasized the confusion in the community as to the powers of private security downtown. In terms of accountability, he noted that people do not want to call Portland Patrol, Inc. (the main business doing private patrols for the Business Alliance) to investigate the people who they say have mistreated them. This is the same concern people have with calling the IPR to complain about the police, since full investigations are conducted by the Police Bureau.

As the Work Groups Turn

The CRC's Appeals Work Group pronounced themselves finished with their work in February. They began with 12 items to tackle and didn't complete at least one of them. While most every subcommittee created by the CRC has finished its work with some kind of report, work group chair Bob Ueland's final report at the March CRC meeting was, "stick a fork in us, we're done."

Meanwhile, the Bias Based Policing work group has met several times, with chair Sherrelle Owens working to keep information organized while the group decides exactly what information it will review. The group is both hampered by and encouraged by the existence of the Mayor's Racial Profiling Committee (see article). While there may be some overlap, "Bias based policing" deals with much more than just race, and the CRC has a unique perspective since they are able to review actual complaints filed and investigated.

The protocols work group continues to look at the CRC's internal workings, adopting some rules quickly and putting others off for the future.

Back at the retreat, Director Stevens squashed the idea of permanent work groups by reading the literal language of the IPR ordinance which allows the CRC "to create special purpose subcommittees... to address particular short-term issues and needs." Chair Hank Miggins later suggested that the protocol workgroup should review the ordinance--maybe this will be one area they can fix.

Some CRC members helped review officer Use of Force data for a report to be released April 24, after PPR deadline.


News You Can Use

From time to time the CRC meetings present information that hasn't come up anywhere else.

--At the February meeting, it was revealed that Portland Police Data System (PPDS) information will be released and shared with law enforcement up and down the coast. We raised the concern that someone needs to address whether and how this information could be removed from other agencies' databases if it is inaccurate. If a person is arrested and found not guilty, or not even brought to trial, their criminal record could be used against them forever. In cases where people are arrested at first amendment protected actions, this could be a violation of ORS 181.575 which prohibits the collection and maintenance of information on people's social, political and religious affiliations.

--The IPR noted that a provision in the Mayor's proposed Charter reform could put IPR under the Mayor and take away the Auditor's ability to hire staff. Even if the measure passes (and it's not expected to), the Mayor says amendments he will place on the 2008 ballot can fix such problems.

--The long-awaited Early Warning System, which morphed into the Early Intervention System, is now renamed the "Employee Information System." Despite assurances in 2000 that the EWS was working just fine, it is clear that the ability to track which officers have repeated acts of misconduct that should lead to disciplinary action (or at least counseling) has never really been functional. CRC member Llewellyn Robison noted that the new EIS will include information such as awards, car crashes, and problem behavior. One reason it isn't finished: some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate.


People's Police Report #41 Table of Contents
People's Police Report Index Page
Return to Copwatch home page