People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Police Review System's 2007 Annual Report Skews Data for Public Relations
With no sense of irony, the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), responsible for handling citizen complaints about Portland police, released its 2007 annual report on September 17, the second anniversary of the death of James Chasse, Jr. As they have been doing for two years, the IPR pointed to an apparent drop in police shootings as a sign that the IPR was making progress (PPR #41). They highlighted that Use of Force complaints are down 34%, but not that force complaints continue to make up 8% of all allegations (there are often 3 or more allegations tied to a single complaint).
The Oregonian ran an article on the report the morning it was released, even though copies were not available to the general public or other news agencies until that day. This unfair practice makes us question the objectivity of Director Mary-Beth Baptista, despite signs of positive trends from her as well (see article in this issue). The Oregonian's headline, "Fewer police shootings in '07 called a good trend," was indicative that a good portion of the article was lifted from the IPR's news release. They did note the IPR's concern that only one use of force allegation has been sustained in the last six years.
The IPR report credits the drop in shootings and deaths (from 9 in 2005 and 7 in 2006 to 4 in 2007) to a number of factors, including the introduction of Tasers, though there is no analysis on the massive amount of Taser use compared to firearm use (300-500 times per yearsee article, left). Other factors include new policies, and an overall drop of 5% in officer contacts with civilians in 2007.
Interestingly, the IPR's report reveals that 6 of 14 use of deadly force incidents reviewed in 2007 resulted in "Sustained" findings against officers--but none had to do with deadly force resulting in injury or death. The findings were for unsatisfactory work performance, improper police chase tactics, failure to call out SERT, creating dangerous cross-fire, and two negligent discharges (accidental gunfire).
Thirty officers were disciplined in 2007, compared to only 17 officers in 2005. This may be because many officers are now being found guilty of low level offenses (also pp. 3-4).
Even so, in 2007 the number of "Sustained" findings was 22, but there were 26 in 2003 and 27 in 2006, so reports of an upward trend are dubious. IPR also touts that the Internal Affairs Division (IAD) investigated 25% of the cases sent there by IPR, up from 15%--even though the raw number of cases investigated was the same as average (55). One reason IAD is rejecting fewer cases, even acknowledged by the IPR itself, is that the IPR is dismissing more at the front end.
The report notes in several places that the IPR can conduct additional or fully independent investigations from IAD, but fails to note that IPR has never done an independent investigation.
Shootings Information and Data Skewed
According to the IPR report, the lack of communication between Leo Besner, the sniper who shot Raymond Gwerder in the back in November 2005, and hostage negotiators, who were on the phone with Gwerder (PPR #37), was highlighted as a policy issue by the Use of Force Review Board (UFRB). Despite the Bureau's awareness of this problem, Officer Stephanie Rabey shot Paul Stewart in the head while he was on the phone with a police sergeant in 2007 (PPR #42). In other words, the quantity of shootings may be down, but the potential misconduct involved is just as serious. Also, Stewart is African American, and IPR has still not addressed why so many more people of color are shot at by police, or why so many African Americans file complaints with IPR. The demographic information shows that African Americans account for about 18% of the complainants each year, while only being 6.6% of the population.
IPR released a follow-up report to City Council on November 14, acknowledging that the 38% overall drop in force complaints compared to the steady 8% representation of force complaints in overall allegations may have to do with their no longer breaking out every allegation made by citizens for investigation (since 2005).
Portland Copwatch countinues to urge the IPR to show its accomplishments and shortcomings honestly, without trying to play with the statistics to make themselves look better.
A copy of our full analysis of the report can be found at:
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.