People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Auditor to Quit as Review Board Work Groups Multiply
In news that could have a lasting impact on Portland's police oversight system, Auditor Gary Blackmer, who created and oversees the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), announced in January his intention to step down from his elected position in May, nearly two years before the end of his term. Meanwhile, the Citizen Review Committee, (CRC) the 9-member civilian component of the City-staffed IPR, received its first appeal of a misconduct investigation in over a year--but the complainant dropped the appeal. The CRC, which released a "Bias Based Policing" interim report in February, seems overwhelmed with "Work Group" tasks. In addition, CRC members are participating in a Police Bureau task force on Use of Force that is closed to the public. In March, the CRC heard from the Central Precinct commander about keeping downtown safe for shoppers, reinforcing the idea that the system is geared toward protecting the powerful, not the poor.
Also in March, the IPR hired a new outreach specialist. This, combined with the departure of Blackmer, whose hands-on management of IPR led to a negative report by consultant Eileen Luna- Firebaugh in early 2008 (PPR #44), and the more receptive, community-minded style of IPR Director Mary-Beth Baptista, could lead to positive changes to the complaint system.
Bye Bye Blackmer
Portland Copwatch (PCW) and Auditor Blackmer have not seen eye-to-eye on the oversight system since he stepped in to yank the "political football" out of Mayor Vera Katz's hands in early 2001 (PPR #23). While PCW believes the only effective system will conduct independent investigations of police misconduct or face skepticism of "police investigating police," Blackmer has always advocated that IPR's role will be to improve Internal Affairs investigations and allow the police to improve themselves as an institution. Since PCW monitors its own incident report line, we feel confident in saying that many people balk when they learn the IPR will hand their complaint to police Internal Affairs--if they even get their case investigated. Only about 10% of all complaints are fully investigated, the rest are dismissed, treated as "Service Complaints," declined, or sent to mediation.
Despite widespread public disapproval of the IPR system--none of the City's polling has ever shown over 45% approval rating for how complaints against police are handled--Blackmer named the IPR his crowning achievement in an interview with the Portland Tribune (January 22). Blackmer, a number cruncher by trade, put forward the fact that the IPR has the lowest number of complaints ever as proof of the system's success; however, it is also possible that nobody will use the system because they believe it will do no good.
Blackmer tends to focus on trends that have nothing to do with the IPR, such as his oft-repeated statistic that the number of shootings per year, on average, have gone down since 2002--when IPR was created, but also when the PPB bought Tasers (which they use far more frequently than guns). Though he conceded that non-police investigators could pursue some cases (which has never been done to date, though the IPR has the power to do so), his bristling when criticized has made it difficult to offer positive solutions to improve the IPR. Although the Oregonian's Anna Griffin dubbed him the "nicest politician in Portland," she also related how "He used an unprintable, Dick Cheney-esque verb during an argument with a reporter from the Portland Mercury" (February 25).
As a non-partisan group, PCW tries to assess all candidates' positions on police oversight. Only current County Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade is running to fill Blackmer's spot.
Appeals: No Spike Despite Process Change, First Appeal of 2009 Withdrawn
One of the CRC's main functions is to hear appeals of cases that complainants feel were not adequately investigated or which had inappropriate findings attached to them. While CRC heard only one case in 2008, it was based on a 2007 appeal. No cases at all were appealed in 2008. Director Baptista announced in January that she had begun including the "holy golden appeal form" with disposition letters to complainants, so they would not have to take the extra step to contact the IPR for the form to file. Despite fears emanating from the Auditor and IPR staff for seven years that the floodgates would open and they would be swamped with cases, only two appeals have been filed so far in 2009.
As it happens, the complainant in the first of those cases was only interested in discussing the officer's behavior with the Captain in charge. Once that discussion happened, the man withdrew the appeal, and CRC will not get a chance to hear the case publicly. The lack of appeals means: The public does not get to see the ins and outs of how the complaint system works; the CRC will be making decisions about police policy based on reviewing case files, rather than seeing the civilians-- and officers--face to face; and policy-related issues which often arise during hearings will likely never be aired. The second appeal is tentatively scheduled for June.
Work Group Mania and Member Turnover: 11 Reasons to Expand the CRC
The CRC lists 8 Work Groups that its 9 members engage in: Bias-Based Policing, PARC Report, Case Handling, IPR Structure Review, Protocols, Tracking List, Outreach, and Tow Policy. At least three CRC members are supposed to be in each group. In addition, several members participate in the Use of Force/Performance Review Board pools (see sidebar), and a few on the Bureau's Use of Force Task Force and the Employee Information System task force with the Police Bureau. Given this workload, it would make sense to expand the CRC to at least 11 members.
Another reason is the turnover. At the end of January, Rob Milesnick (who missed an unprecedented number of CRC meetings, including his last one) and Sherrelle Owens let their terms expire after just one two-year term each. Member Josey Cooper announced in March that she would resign on April 22. In 7 years, there have been 32 members of the CRC, meaning 24 people, including Cooper, have resigned or let their terms expire.
The newest members, appointed on January 26 to replace Milesnick and Owens, are Rochelle Silver, a psychologist who works with the state Private Investigators board, and Barbara Anderson, who was on the Oregon State Bar's discipline board and was a pro-choice delegate to the GOP convention.
The Use of Force Task Force, which PCW criticized after its first report in April, 2006 for not including statistics on people of color, not having any members who were people of color, and for not soliciting public input, began meeting again in January. This time, the statistics on people of color may be available after the Bureau compiled them for the Racial Profiling Committee (RPC) in December 2007; there is one person of color on board--IPR Assistant Director Constantin Severe; but the meetings remain closed to the public. When pressed for a reason, IPR Director Baptista made it clear this was the preference of Chief Sizer, who also took most of the RPC's work behind closed doors at the end of 2008 (PPR #46). To his credit, CRC Chair Mike Bigham has offered to bring forward citizen concerns to the task force.
Contact Chair Bigham via the IPR at 503-823-0146 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Precinct Commander Defends Private Security
The CRC had only one guest speaker in early 2009, Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese. Reese was supposed to appear concurrently with John Hren, director of the private security outfit Portland Patrol, Inc. (PPI) to discuss the confusion created by PPI's quasi-law-enforcement role and its too-similar-to-Portland-Police uniforms (PPR #42). Hren apparently feared public scrutiny (Portland Mercury, March 19), not surprising as there is no adequate independent system to file complaints against the many private cops downtown. PPI is hired to patrol by the Clean and Safe program of the Downtown Business Improvement District, paid for by a self-imposed tax in the area. Reese explained that Clean and Safe pays the salaries of three Portland officers who are under his command but are essentially "on loan" to the business district, following calls for service on PPI's radio system instead of 911 dispatchers. Reese says these cops on bicycles help address drug crimes, car prowls, and aggressive panhandling as problems.
Reese called the PPB-cops-for-hire "productive" because they generate more arrests than other officers. He was not asked by CRC how many convictions came from those arrests. Perhaps most disturbingly, Reese spoke about how some people, such as "road warriors" (youth dressed in black, usually tattooed) with their pit bulls, make people uncomfortable to shop. He disparaged people who "panhandle to support their lifestyle" and applauded the secret list that targets people repeatedly arrested for drug offenses and forces them into treatment (see the secret list article in this issue). No mention was made of the drug crimes likely committed in Pearl District million-dollar condos just blocks away in Reese's precinct. Reese also noted that police Use of Force was down 50% in 2008 in his jurisdiction, blaming most of the violence on bars who "overservice" people with alcohol in the entertainment district.
Meanwhile, the IPR hired Irene Konev to be their Outreach Coordinator, a position that has been open since August, 2007 (and for which Baptista says 210 people applied). Konev, formerly Outreach Coordinator for the Clackamas Women's Services, will be tasked with putting into action the Outreach plan designed by EnviroIssues, finalized after a presentation at CRC's special January 6 meeting. If all goes well, perhaps the IPR will finally have someone who visits poor people, immigrants, people of color, gays and lesbians, and other populations vulnerable to police abuse.
Another Revolving Door for the Oversight System
Capt. John Tellis, whose tenure at Internal Affairs saw the merger of the "unfounded" and "insufficient evidence" findings, too-close relationships with CRC members and IPR staff, and the insistence that certain rules at the Bureau were really just "guidelines," was promoted, leaving Capt. (formerly Lt.) Dave Famous in charge. Since we started monitoring police review board meetings in 1992, there have been no less than 11 IAD Captains/Lieutenants in 17 years (Elfving, Webber, Bennington [twice], Jensen, Smith, Schenck, Beard, Drum, Tellis, Famous). And somewhere, Spinal Tap needs a new drummer.
Work Groups in Brief:
--The Tracking List Work Group will follow progress on three goals set at CRC's Feb. 28 retreat: increasing the credibility of IPR (good luck!), addressing "satisfaction" with Portland Police, and developing training for CRC members.
--The Bias Based Policing Work Group's interim report was released and IPR is seeking community input at about the same time as the Chief's Racial Profiling Plan (see racial profiling article in this issue). With Work Group chair Owens gone, it is unclear how much will be added for the final report.
Strangely, the Chief was given the report and was able to respond to it before the CRC approved it Feb. 17.
--The Case Handling Work Group examined all instances in recent years where people protested their allegations being declined, dismissed or receiving a "Service Complaint." Next the Work Group will examine a broader sample of cases for how IPR assigned them, attached allegations to them, and disposed of them.
--The PARC Work Group is examining 26 recommendations regarding police shootings and deaths from the 2005 and 2006 Police Assessment Resource Center reports; PCW is encouraging them to also review the original 89 recommendations from 2003, un-numbered recommendations, and the new report which was released in February (see shootings article in this issue).
--In December, the CRC presented to City Council an interim report from its Structural Review work group, looking at the Luna Firebaugh Report's recommendations on changes to IPR. They plan a final report for July.
In his December column in the Portland Police Association (PPA) newsletter, the Rap Sheet, new PPA President Scott Westerman showed his ignorance of the IPR/CRC system and his disdain for Use of Force (UFRBs) and Performance Review Boards (PRBs). As reported in PPR #46, the PPA filed a grievance because they feel the secretly-held boards "embarrass" the officers. UFRBs are held after shootings and other major incidents; PRB's are held when an officer has been found guilty of misconduct and faces time off or termination. The Executive Board went further, voting that PPA members should not appear until their concerns are addressed.
Westerman claims to understand the need for transparency, and that he is not against a review like those done in the PARC reports, looking for policy and training issues with officer names redacted (how is that transparent?). As an example, Westerman says that the CRC reviews "all complaints" in the same way. That is not true.
The IPR handles complaints and takes into account the officer's name, and sometimes history, while Internal Affairs conducts a full investigation in certain circumstances. The CRC only reviews cases upon appeal or for auditing purposes; in both scenarios they know the names of the officers, though anything presented publicly has the names changed to "Officer A" or "Sergeant B."
His objection to Use of Force and Performance Review Boards is that officers feel "traumatized" after being asked to come in to answer questions they have already answered 3-4 times in the criminal and administrative investigations. "When our members are subjected to unprofessional questioning where the member is grilled, embarrassed or berated by members of these boards, it is unacceptable."
Westerman claims the majority of people who have appeared felt they were presumed guilty--but
none that we know of were found guilty of using excessive force. Westerman advises officers they
can reduce discipline in "mitigation" (a private hearing with the Chief guaranteed by their contract)
just as well without the Review Boards.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.