Police Review System Responds to Scrutiny, Holds No Hearings
Meanwhile, the CRC held no new hearings, continued to tinker with their internal protocols, and made slow progress on work groups. They created a long-awaited committee to look at recommendations by the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) about police shootings and deaths in custody. Two new CRC members were confirmed by City Council in late November. For the second time in two years, Marcella Red Thunder was not re-appointed to her seat (and then resigned before finishing her new term); Bob Ueland, a fixture on PIIAC and the CRC since the mid-1990s, decided not to reapply.
The new members: family attorney Mark Johnson was sworn in after the Council hearing; mediator Joann Jackson will be sworn in at the January CRC meeting.
CRC's community outreach meetings have continued to draw little public interest, and their guest speakers continue to present police programs without addressing accountability issues.
Preliminary Report Makes Auditor Defensive, Audit HimselfAuditor Blackmer's 10-page response to Luna-Firebaugh's 20-page preliminary report exemplifies one of the main problems with Portland's system: The Auditor has written an assessment of his own program. In the same way Blackmer's vision of the IPR allows the Portland Police to investigate their own officers for possible misconduct, his self-assessment of the IPR proves why government agencies should not oversee themselves. Perhaps the next time the Transportation Bureau is up for a review, the Auditor should let them audit themselves, too.
Luna-Firebaugh's report was mostly about survey responses she had received from complainants (325) and officers (295). It shows civilians with a satisfaction rate of 10 to 33% (though higher--33 to 60%--for those who went to mediation), and officers rating outcome as satisfactory 50% of the time. These numbers roughly correspond to the numbers the IPR printed in its annual reports in 2002, 2003 and 2004. The 2005 and 2006 annual reports have yet to be released as of December, 2007--Blackmer's response notes "we resolved the personnel matter" and expect the 2007 report by April, 2008.
Blackmer opens by lecturing the consultant about her methods for gathering information, and later offers disparaging remarks about the citizen groups she has contacted (Portland Copwatch, the League of Women Voters and the NW Constitutional Rights Center).
He repeats the misleading statistic about police shootings being down because the IPR hired PARC to conduct their reviews (see PPR #41) and adds that Use of Force complaints are now down thanks to the Use of Force Report they released earlier this year (PPR #42). He claims that a reduction from 100 or more excessive force complaints to 70 is a "remarkable accomplishment" for which he takes credit. Could it be that people are complaining less because they don't want their excessive force concerns to be handled as "Service Complaints"?
Blackmer clearly spent hours on the response, citing sources, statistics, and even suggesting a mathematical correction in one place. His ultimate complaint, which was parroted by IPR Director Leslie Stevens at the October CRC meeting, is that the assessment isn't being done using US General Accounting Office audit practices. This ignores Luna-Firebaugh's credentials as someone who has headed up two police review boards (Berkeley and San Diego County), was lead investigator for another (San Francisco), teaches law at the University of Arizona, helped review the oversight systems in Albuquerque and Cincinatti, provided legal representation for sheriff's deputies and currently works with Native American tribal police.
Members of the CRC also complained in October that Luna-Firebaugh did not seem interested in speaking with them, though she had given them all her contact information in July and already spoken with Chair Hank Miggins (for two hours) and member Red Thunder.
-We have the preliminary report and Blackmer's reply on our website. The final report is due in January. Be prepared to respond to the report--call us at 503-236-3065.-
New Memberships Raise Question of Selection ProcessWhen IPR first started, members of PIIAC, then the CRC, were involved in selecting the new committee members. This produced a far more active and engaged Committee than in the present system, put in place by Blackmer and former Director Richard Rosenthal. Now, one CRC member not up for renewal joins one IPR staff member and one "community member" to interview and nominate candidates. The IPR staff person selecting this year's nominees, Pete Sandrock, has only been at one CRC meeting in the past year and a half. The Citizen, Chief's Forum member Norm Costa, to our knowledge has never been to a CRC meeting. CRC member Sherrelle Owens rounded out the trio.
When Red Thunder was passed over for her seat, the CRC was again left with no Native American representation. No Latinos have been on the board since 2005. The ordinance says "appointments should be made that will cause the group to best reflect the demographic make-up of the community" (3.21.080 [A]).
New Findings Run Counter to Logic, National StandardsAs reported briefly in PPR #42, the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) decided to collapse the two findings of "Insufficient Evidence" and "Unfounded" into a new finding, "Unproven." With "Insufficient Evidence," the police were saying the complainant and the officer are equally believable, while "Unfounded" meant the complainant, more or less, got it all wrong.
IAD Captain John Tellis told the CRC at their November meeting that the two findings were changed because the police and IPR were spending too much time trying to tell the difference between them. IPR Director Stevens backed him up, adding that she talked with the Chief and the promotions board, and that they don't consider the differences between "Insufficient," "Unfounded," and "Exonerated" (complaint happened, but was within policy) when looking at an officer's record. We believe that if that is the case, the discipline and promotion systems need to be changed, not the findings. Nearly every other review board we have information about (San Diego County, San Francisco, Omaha...e.g.) separates Unfounded from Insufficient Evidence (also known as "Not Sustained").
In a number of cases, a citizen has appealed their finding and the CRC hasn't had enough evidence to prove their allegations, but found enough evidence to change the finding to "Insufficient Evidence." This happened 5 times at the June meeting, and the Bureau accepted all those findings (PPR #42). Thus, one of the only tools available to the CRC to show the complainant that they are at least believed on a level with the officer, is being taken away.
We have also encouraged the City for years to adopt findings used at San Francisco's Office of Citizen Complaints, which are "Policy Failure," "Training Failure," and "Supervisory Failure."
Cancelled Appeal Raises Serious IssuesWe last went to press shortly after the August meeting, at which case 2007-x-0006 was not subjected to a formal hearing since the appellant withdrew at the last minute. She had said that the officer used excessive force by bringing her down to the sidewalk on her face and breaking her wrist. The finding was "Exonerated."
The CRC held a discussion with the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) in the absence of a hearing, which raised issues about confidential medical information that hadn't been waived by the appellant. Precinct Commander Mike Reese couldn't remember whether the officers, responding to a person in psychological crisis, were trained in Crisis Intervention Team training. Reese also admitted that he didn't know at the time he made the finding that the IAD investigator merely talked to a medical staffer to form an opinion that the woman's wrist was broken prior to the encounter with police. Clearly this case needed recon-sideration, but without an appellant, no changes or review will be done.
Quarterly Report Shows Sample of CasesAfter much self-congratulation by Director Stevens about "her" office (it's rarely "the IPR/our office") the IPR's Fall Quarterly report describes outcomes of 31 cases handled by IAD. The report claims IAD is sustaining allegations in 30% of cases, up from 15%. But the sustained findings were for: failing to write reports (2), mishandling property (2), poor service, false accusations, damage to property, non-professional behavior and misuse of authority. With Use of Force allegations, 5 were "exonerated," 4 found "Insufficient Evidence," and 7 "Unfounded."
The IPR's fall 2007 report is at portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?a=174936&c=40870
Guest Presenters Ignore Constitutional ConcernsAt the request of CRC Chair Hank Miggins, who admitted a conflict if he invited the ACLU to meetings because he sits on their board as well, police spoke twice with no counter-presentation on Constitutional rights at the November meeting. Their first report, by Commander Bret Smith, followed up on the curfew issue raised in April (PPR #41), but gave no new basic information about the pilot project that snagged only African American single moms. He repeated the same rationale as Deputy DA Jim Hayden, citing Richard Brown as a community member who asked for police to begin enforcing Oregon's state law requiring parental responsibility for curfew violations. (Neither one named anyone other than Brown as involved.) Smith did not address why none of the seven mothers appeared for their parenting classes.
Smith stated that when young people gather in large groups, weapons come out and there are gunshots. He admitted that wasn't always the case and he couldn't say how often it was--or whether there had been gunshots on the days officers conducted the curfew sweeps. The Bureau is still able to enforce the law, but hasn't done so since spring break.
The other presenters, Officer Barry Hosier and Lt. Eric Brown, talked about a program in which police educate landlords how to report on bad tenants, and tenants how to call police on one another. They could not name the Community Alliance of Tenants or any tenants' rights group that might have offered another point of view, and didn't understand that people who weren't convicted of any crime (and were visited by police due to angry neighbors, anonymous tips or police grudges) could suffer if Constitutional rights are not considered.
Tow Policy Report ReleasedThe CRC's Tow Policy Work Group finally published their report. Although it physically shows signs of the IPR's weakest elements--the Chief's response to the report is an overleaf, making it look as if the Bureau wrote the report--it has mildly useful suggestions, all but one of which the Chief stated an intention to adopt.
The recommendations include: to give officers more discretion in some situations not to tow cars; to emphasize an existing directive on assisting motorists (which came into being because of a PIIAC recommendation); to give Tri-Met vouchers to stranded motorists/passengers; to mention valuable items in the property receipts; to remind officers they can call a car's owner if it has been stolen and recovered; and to find better ways to handle people and their belongings when their car is also where they live. The one area on which the Chief waffled was the suggestion to look at tows for possible bias, even though the Work Group heard multiple accounts of police asking people--in particular poor people and people of color, "haven't I towed your car before?" The recommendation mentioned analyzing "economic status, race, neighborhoods and officers" for tows. Chief Sizer felt it would be difficult to fund, for officers to determine economic status, and meaningless to identify officers who tow cars more frequently than others. We hope the CRC will push this issue when they present the report to City Council on January 9.
In a separate cover letter from the CRC, our recommendation to charge a sliding scale based on the car's book value is mentioned.
Also:--The Director admitted she does not always look at an officer's history when a complaint comes in, even though the Ordinance allows the IPR to do its own investigations when IAD "has not done an adequate job investigating complaints against a particular [officer]" (City Code 3.21.120[D]);
--The Director updated the protocol the IPR uses to handle Tort Claims (intent to sue notices) as complaints and made proposed changes to the Mediation protocol;
--The Bias Based Policing Work Group decided to analyze 32 cases to look for how the complaints were handled as well as police policies and training that might need changing;
--After Red Thunder moved to change the minutes to more accurately reflect a comment she had made about cultural discomfort she felt around the IPR's practice of providing food for the IPR/CRC but not the public, the board voted 6-1 (with member Loren Eriksson dissenting) to change the minutes. Cultural competency classes, anyone?
For more information contact the IPR at 503-823-0146.
Curiously, the Portland Tribune got a copy of Luna-Firebaugh's interim report--which was commissioned by the Mayor's office --from Auditor Blackmer (November 27).
Attorney Disses Review Board After Taser / Threat Incident OK'dCitizen ezeji meYesu's 2006 complaint about witnessing Officer Jason Lobaugh (#24578) use a Taser on a man and kick him (PPR #40) was returned with a finding of "Insufficient Evidence" by the IPR in August. Lobaugh also threatened to throw meYusu to the ground, which prompted IAD Captain John Tellis to write, "Officer Lobaugh wanted to make it perfectly clear that your actions at that instant were unacceptable, and you needed to immediately step back." Tellis said the Bureau exonerated Lobaugh for threatening meYesu (although Lobaugh was debriefed). This prompted meYesu's attorney, Greg Kafoury, to tell the Portland Mercury (September 13): "The whole process is completely worthless. I won't dignify it [by appealing]. What does it take, two independent witnesses? Give me a break. Cops cannot be fired. They have abso-fucking-lute immunity."
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