People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Review Board to Close Year with Only One Hearing on Police
The Citizen Review Committee (CRC) has closed out the calendar year 2008 after holding only one public hearing for a civilian to appeal a complaint of police misconduct-- in February, when a woman from Silverton complained of an off-duty Portland cop pointing a gun at her (PPR #44). Despite a huge number of work groups currently operating (eight, according to the most recent meeting agenda), progress continues to be slow. CRC's October membership recruitment led to two members giving up their seats voluntarily. Meanwhile, the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), the department in the City Auditor's office that does intake of complaints and coordinates the CRC's work, is making some positive changes under the guidance of new Director Mary-Beth Baptista, while there is still much room for progress.
IPR Releases Report, Hires Defense Attorney, Promises Appeals Process Improvement
Baptista was interviewed in the November 13 Portland Tribune, which described that the IPR is "supposed to provide Portlanders a window into how officers are disciplined--a process that otherwise would be cloaked in secrecy." Baptista categorized the first IPR Director, Richard Rosenthal's tenure (2002-2005) as a creator of procedures. As for his successor, Leslie Stevens (2005-2008), who left her job at IPR to join the Police Bureau, Baptista said: "Leslie Stevens really went into the police bureau and worked on policy issues with them. Now it's time for the outreach piece, and I think that's what my strength is." Pressed on her own relationship with the police, contrasting what the Tribune's Nick Budnick says were Rosenthal being perceived as a "pain" and Stevens "collegial," Baptista said she wants to be treated as a professional and so will treat others that way.
Here are some of the mixed successes of Baptista's term so far:
--The IPR released its 2007 annual report in under a year, after the '05-'06 reports were combined and released in February 2008. However, the new report generally came off as a public relations effort to paint the Bureau in a positive light (see IPR article).
--The IPR hired Constantin Severe, a former defense attorney from Metropolitan Public Defenders, as Assistant Director. Compared to many IPR staff who are retired police, Baptista herself, who worked in the District Attorney's office, and the CRC, which has numerous members with close ties to law enforcement and/or are retired public safety officers themselves, this is a positive move toward creating an objective office.
--For 6 years, IPR has written letters to complainants, letting them know the outcome of their complaint includes allegations that were not sustained, but instructing them to contact the IPR for appeals forms. The IPR now plans to begin including the appeal forms in the letters beginning in January. Portland Copwatch has been urging this for years, and but IPR feared being overwhelmed by appeals. There were no appeals filed in 2008--the February hearing was a 2007 case. At a CRC Work Group meeting, Baptista said that the IPR is always telling the Bureau to change and they act as though the world will end, so to model good behavior, IPR would agree to try this idea out.
--Though the Bureau's new office that oversees the Internal Affairs Division (IAD), Early Intervention System and other related issues is headed by former IPR Director Stevens, the IPR was as surprised as Copwatch to learn that the office's name had been changed from the "Office of Professional Standards" (OPS) to the "Office of Accountability and Professional Standards." The change may have been made because, Baptista says, Bureau members confused the OPS with their Operations Division, known as Ops for short. We hear a rumor that the change was made because the new office was being called "OOPS."
--Internal Affairs, with input from both IPR and some CRC members, has hired its first investigator who is not a former Portland Police officer. The investigator is, however, a former San Francisco Sheriff's deputy. Despite the wealth of non-police investigators in the business (including independent investigators for San Francisco's Office of Citizen Complaints), we suspect such investigators will not be part of the oversight system until someday IPR conducts its first independent investigation.
Sustained Findings Sweat the Small Stuff
Because the CRC is not hearing appeals, the main source for learning the nature of cases being handled by IPR and their outcomes is now the IPR's quarterly reports. (The annual report contained very little specific information.)
IPR's third quarter report presents short narratives of several cases investigated by IAD. Three cases received at least one "Sustained" finding. Those findings were generally not attached to the most serious allegations. Sustained findings included:
--An officer failed to document his use of profanity and failed to write an incident report. The use of profanity was within policy ("Exonerated").
--An officer accused of intimidating a citizen who flipped him off in a car by turning on his overhead lights and driving erratically had the improper use of lights Sustained. However, it is unclear whether the intimidation was even investigated as misconduct, and the reckless driving allegation was "Unproven."
--A man drove up next to a police car to report a car prowl, and the officer "used profanity, asked him if he was a 'retard' or 'illiterate,' refused to listen or take appropriate action, and failed to provide his name when requested." All of the allegations were Sustained except for the officer's failure to provide identification. This case is the exception to the rule.
Continuing the trend for which they were criticized in the Eileen Luna-Firebaugh assessment report (PPR #44), the IPR reported the percentage of sustained findings based on the total number of cases reviewed (5 of 8, 63%) instead of the number of allegations (unavailable, but likely closer to 7 of 32 or 22%).
One other case discussed at a CRC meeting involved an officer who was investigated for an incident from before his transfer to Portland. The complainant filed an appeal, but Baptista denied it and apologized to the officer for IAD having investigated at all. However, the fact that the IPR found the complaint timely implies that the incident occurred shortly before the transfer. Therefore, the previous agency would likely not have pursued the complaint, and if IAD had not done the investigation, the incident would have escaped scrutiny altogether.
Outreach Plan Develops, Guest Speaker Addresses Police Issues
The IPR hired a consulting firm, EnviroIssues, "to develop a plan to clearly communicate priorities and accomplishments of IPR and the Citizen Review Committee," as well as "strengthen community outreach and foster stakeholder input" (IPR 3rd quarter '08 report). It's not surprising that the number one priority seems to be making the IPR look good, rather than trying to get the public to express their concerns about police misconduct or their expectations for an independent oversight system.
At a Work Group meeting attended by Peter Ovington of EnviroIssues, Assistant Director Severe described how people in his neighborhood in Miami would never think of filing complaints against police, because they thought it would not do any good. The draft plan, which came out in December, contained almost none of these kinds of insights.
In September, the CRC's guest speaker actually came prepared to talk about how his clients' interactions with police might be an issue for the board. In this sense, Bill Toomey of the Multnomah County Developmental Disabilities Division was a model presenter. Toomey talked about the expectation that when police are called, they will "assist in protecting the person and others" if a client is "acting out." He noted that his community depends on the police, since his staff can't work after business hours or respond quickly. Despite this relationship, he said he feels complaints should be filed if there is misconduct.
Toomey is working to get developmental disability information included in Crisis Intervention Team training.
CRC Member Heads Crime Commission, Will Give Up Seat; Bias Based Policing Chair Also Leaving
In late August, CRC member Robert Milesnick was hired as Executive Director of the Citizens Crime Commission (CCC), a local entity which recently engaged in lobbying on behalf of the Portland Police Association, as reported by PPA President Robert King in the July Rap Sheet (PPR #45). Since the CRC is involved in investigating members of the PPA for possible misconduct, Portland Copwatch cited Milesnick's new job as a conflict of interest and demanded he resign from the Citizen Review Committee.
To his credit, Milesnick raised the question at the CRC's September meeting. He told other members he would resign if they felt he should. Asked about the connection between the Portland Business Alliance (PBA), which has advocated such tough-on-crime measures as the Sit/Lie law, and the Crime Commission, Milesnick said the PBA provides the CCC with insurance and other corporate infrastructure, but not funds. This and the general "law and order" policies of the CCC, despite its work to help foster children with alternatives to the criminal justice system, are additional concerns.
After the CRC was unable to make a decision that night, Milesnick decided not to renew his CRC membership, which expires in February.
The CRC membership recruitment process got started late this year, in October. Members Mike Bigham (the CRC Chair) and Lewellyn Robison reapplied, but Sherrelle Owens, the chair of the Bias Based Policing Work Group who is just completing her first full term, did not. This means there will be at least two new members as of January.
Interestingly, the IPR's announcement for recruitment, instead of saying CRC's duties include hearing appeals, lists a duty to "exercise impartiality when citizens or PPB officers appeal results of police misconduct investigations." So, they act impartial but don't hold hearings?
One good sign about the application process: The group appointed to review applicants included two current and one former CRC member (Eric Terrell), Debbie Aiona of the League of Women Voters, who attends most CRC meetings, and Helen O'Brien from the DA's victim assistance office. It appears to be the first time that Auditor Gary Blackmer, who designed the system, did not have a strong hand in picking the review panel.
IPR Structural Issues and "Effectiveness"
Portland Copwatch has proposed making the IPR, the Ombudsman's office (also under the Auditor, it takes complaints about every City Bureau except police) and the Human Relations office into a branch of government in the City Charter. This idea would allow these three departments to have legal counsel other than the City Attorney to avoid conflicts of interest. Ignoring our proposal, Auditor Blackmer attempted have the Ombudsman's office embedded alone in the Charter via a City Council vote in late August. Recognizing that there was a long process that led to the last set of Charter changes, Commissioner Dan Saltzman and others succeeded in having Blackmer withdraw the request.
Comparing the IPR's role as an overseer of the Internal Affairs Division rather than being a truly independent oversight agency to other review boards from around the country, Director Baptista and three members of the CRC reported that they think Portland is doing great. Having attended the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) conference in October, they reported that they felt the IPR has more "effectiveness" than other cities' boards. However, there are cities in which the review systems have higher satisfaction rates (such as Albuquerque, NM). They also noted that other cities have problems with their police unions. Portland Copwatch responded to be aware that Portland also has such issues. We believe one reason IPR has never used its power to conduct independent investigations is the power of the PPA.
The CRC will hold a retreat on Saturday, February 28, 9 AM at the Water Bureau Facility in N Portland. Contact IPR at 503-823-0146.
CRC Mixes Steps Forward & Slow-Moving Work Groups:
CRC has taken a few positive steps lately, while still not fulfilling their promise as a "police review board."
--CRC members reported that the Tri-Met Division is still not requiring interviews with Portland's Internal Affairs for officers from other jurisdictions working under Portland Police Bureau command (PPR #45). However, Internal Affairs from other cities have offered to do interviews if complaints are filed in Portland and their officers are witnesses or subjects of the complaints.
--Member Josey Cooper gave a report on the Sisters of the Road forum on the Sit/Lie (sidewalk obstructions) ordinance (PPR #45). Cooper described how Portland Patrol, Inc (PPI) officers behave like police officers even though they are private security. They are not allowed to enforce the law, only to inform people what the law says. They do not always hold to their legal limits. CRC Chair Bigham wrote a letter to the head of PPI, inviting him to discuss the "confusion" in the community around PPI's role.
--CRC changed the name of the "Service Complaint Work Group" to the "Case Handling Work Group," because they are examining how IPR and IAD decide to designate complaints as declined, dismissed or as "Service Complaints." They also changed the name of the "Performance Review Work Group" which is looking at the Luna-Firebaugh report to the "IPR Structural Review Work Group." PCW supported and suggested both ideas.
Of concern: CRC members have again been invited to participate in the "Use of Force Task Force" which published statistics without data on suspects' race last year (PPR #42), without explaning why these meetings are not open to the public. Asked at a Racial Profiling committee meeting about this matter, Chief Sizer said it is easier to have frank conversations when the press and public are not around (see Updates article in this issue). Oregon has an open meetings law to prevent such conversations from taking place behind closed doors.
--The CRC's PARC Work Group is examining Police Assessment Resource Center's 2005 and 2006 follow-up reports on police shootings and deaths in custody to check for Police Bureau compliance and whether the recommendations fit Portland. However, the CRC has never examined the 89 recommendations in the original 2003 PARC report. The new 2008 report covering the years 2004-2005 has not come out as of PPR press time. PARC's five year contract ends when the 2008 report is done.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.