New Police Shootings Report:
Twisted and Restricted by the Auditor, Good Suggestions Provide Some Change

On January 10, Portland City Auditor Gary Blackmer and Independent Police Review Division (IPR) Director Leslie Stevens prepared to unveil the new Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) report on police shootings and deaths in custody. The report was scheduled to be released to the public just an hour before a City Council hearing. After Portland Copwatch and others complained about the short time to review the report, the release was delayed by two weeks. Blackmer and Stevens held a news conference that first day, making unsubstantiated claims that previous PARC reports had led to a decrease in police shootings and an increase in public confidence. Despite the fact that this information was not in any way part of the PARC report, they later repeated their claims at Council.

The report itself was similar to PARC's first two reports from 2003 and 2005 (PPRs #31 & 37), mixing some good, common-sense recommendations with frustratingly vague references to specific incidents, tidbits of useful information, and some analysis which effectively lets the police off the hook too easily. The new report contains only four recommendations based on ten shootings from February 2002 to October 2003. It included a review of the Kendra James shooting (PPRs #30+), but offered no particular insight into that case other than that Officer McCollister entered James' car "when it was predictable the car would be put in gear." PARC analyzed 25 of their previous recommendations and found that the Bureau had adopted only 9 of them exactly as written.

The new report includes information that in at least one Internal Affairs Division (IAD) investigation, the involvement of the Portland Police Association (PPA) led to the officers using "similar phrases, descriptions and conclusions." PARC called for IAD to interview all officers to be sure "policy, training and tactics" issues are covered, subjects homicide detectives do not cover in criminal inquiries.

Although 33% of the people shot at by police were people of color in a city with a non-white population of only 23%, PARC says speculation on whether subconscious racial bias played a role in the shootings "would serve no useful purpose." When this was pointed out to City Council, Mayor Potter and Commissioners Leonard and Adams requested that a study be done, perhaps with Portland State University, of how Portland's rates of shooting minority community members compares with other cities. Auditor Blackmer reluctantly agreed.

In a glaring contradiction, PARC asserts none of the shootings seemed "gratuitous" but also declares it is impossible to determine if the shootings were justified based on the material they reviewed.

Due to restraints Blackmer imposed, the reports do not contain suspects' or officers' names, even though nearly all of these names are on the Bureau's website. When PARC's Oren Root met with community members in April, 2006, he asked for input about the cases they were reviewing. When asked which cases he was examining, he replied "I can't tell you." This confusion led to Portland Copwatch misidentifying an officer and a civilian in our original analysis, underscoring the importance of allowing PARC to publish these names.

The PARC reports show the police conducted no serious review of shootings for administrative violations until 2003. This means that officers who used deadly force before then--many of whom are still with the Bureau--may have violated policies, yet cannot be held accountable for their actions since too much time has passed.

The statistics cited by the Auditor and the IPR Director showing the number of shootings per year indicated that an average of 9 incidents per year in 1997-2002 gave way to an average of about 6 per year in 2003-2006. However, overall in that ten year period there has been an average of 7 shootings or deaths per year, one every 52 days. Although there were only 4 shootings/deaths in each of 2003 and '04, there were 9 in '05 and 7 in '06, bringing the average for 2004-2006 back to 7. Moreover, the first PARC report wasn't released until late August, 2003, and the first resulting changes were instituted in September, 2003-- yet all of 2003 was included in the Auditor's chart. Unfortunately, this tactic was effective as propaganda-- Mayor Tom Potter repeated in his State of the City address that PARC "has led to a reduction in these [shooting and deaths] incidents."

Despite the Auditor's assessment, it appears that an officer ignored one of PARC's few recommendations regarding actual shootings policies which the Bureau adopted. The policy restricts officers' ability to shoot at moving vehicles, yet in January, 2006, Lt. Jeffrey Kaer shot and killed Dennis Young in a car Young was driving (PPR #38 and p. 7).

In general, the police don't seem interested in reducing the number of shootings. PPA President Robert King wrote of his concern that Blackmer says PARC's goal is to "identify strategies for reducing... future incidents." King declares this a "failure to acknowledge the dangers of the world we live in" and insists "there are times when we have no other alternative but to use deadly force" (Rap Sheet, January 2007).

Due to the restrictions of the contract, the earliest cases reviewed in the report took place in February, 2002--nearly five years before it was released. Also, because the Auditor restricts PARC from looking at cases in litigation, the case of Byron Hammick, shot while holding onto a child, was not reviewed. The current contract with PARC calls for annual reviews. Since the next report would cover one shooting in 2003 and four in 2004, and at least two of those incidents are still in litigation (the James Jahar Perez and Jose Padilla cases), the IPR decided unilaterally to cut the reports back to once per two years. This will only make the problem worse, since the community will not see beneficial changes until five to six years after an incident.

In PARC's last report, they called for more civilian oversight in shootings cases. In the new report, they found the East County Major Crimes Team conducted some less than thorough investigations and recommended doing all shooting investigations within the Bureau. Since PARC questioned the objectivity of other agencies because their interviewing skills weren't up to speed, one obvious solution is to create a team of trained civilian investigators working for an independent board to review shootings. At Council, Commissioners Adams and Saltzman both emphasized the importance of someone from outside the Bureau conducting these investigations.

Use of Force Review Board--The Veil is Lifted, A Little

The PARC report also offered the first comprehensive look at the new system instituted by the Bureau to judge officer shootings: the Use of Force Review Board (UFRB). While two civilians (from a pool of 24) sit on these boards, it is clear that the police have an advantage with seven seats. In trying to reassure its members about the "fairness" of the Board, PPA President King said: "the command staff constitutes a majority--five of nine--votes on the board." In contrast, Phoenix's Board has three officers and three civilians, an equal balance.

PARC recommended that the names of the civilians should be made public, which Portland Copwatch has suggested repeatedly. It appears that when the new pool is chosen before June, this information will be forthcoming. It is unclear whether the officers who serve as "peers" in a similar pool for the Board will be identified. PARC noted that peer officers had more fear of retaliation than their citizen counterparts, citing one case where a commander "harshly attacked" a presenter, making other officers feel intimidated.

At the March Citizen Review Committee (CRC) meeting, member Loren Ericksson stated that between the UFRB and its companion, the Performance Review Board (PRB), there have been a total of 21 meetings covering 51 cases since mid-2005. Ericksson explained that the PRB, which considers discipline proposed for officers and makes recommendations to the Chief, hears multiple cases when it meets. He said that in response to the PARC report, the members of the UFRB/PRB are now being notified of the outcomes of their cases, and the Directive outlining the boards is being rewritten for clarity. New Assistant Chief Brian Martinek has pledged to keep all the volunteer members in the loop, as some were never contacted at all in the 21 months the board has been running.

PPA President King echoes PARC's recommendation that the Bureau hold the UFRBs within six months of the incident--as opposed to the current 8 to 14 months. He threatens that the Bureau will lose the officers' cooperation if the process isn't sped up (Rap Sheet, January 2007).

Interestingly, though King questions the value of the UFRB, he says the system is better than the old Review Level Committee, which had no peer officers or civilians on them. Perhaps he didn't communicate with Sgt. Mitch Copp, his secretary-treasurer, who thinks the Performance Review Board is in violation of the PPA contract's article 20.2. That article calls for discipline to happen in the way "least likely to embarrass the officer before other officers or the public." Since other officers and civilians now sit on the Board recommending discipline, he asks other members to contact him if they think this is a violation of the contract. This is clearly an empty argument, since two civilians and two officers sworn to secrecy cannot "embarrass" the officer.

Overall, King concedes that in many ways, despite the PPA's reluctance to support PARC, the process regarding shooting incidents "has improved and we are better."

The 2005 report was released at a poorly attended news conference with no public hearing, so overall this year's release was an improvement. It was disappointing, though, that PARC's Oren Root, who presented the first report to City Council in 2003, was not invited to make a presentation on the new report.

See parc2006analysis.html for our analysis including a link to the PARC report. Contact Auditor Blackmer at 503-823-4078.


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