People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Police Review Board to Get Some Teeth
In mid-January, Commisisoner Randy Leonard announced his "New Year's resolution" was to grant more power to Portland's "police review board," the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR). At first, Leonard's announcement seemed solely a political slap, both at the Mayor, who appointed Commissioner Dan Saltzman to head the Police Bureau, and to Chief Sizer, who threatened to resign if Leonard were put in charge of the police (PPR #46). However, Leonard worked behind the scenes with City Auditor Lavonne Griffin Valade and IPR Director Mary-Beth Baptista to draw up an ordinance that, while still lacking in many areas, gives IPR more tools that could boost its effectiveness and credibility, though leaving in place its fundamental police investigating police structure. On March 31, at the second of two three-hour-plus Council hearings, the ordinance was passed in a historic 5-0 vote.
It should not be underestimated how important it is that the Auditor and IPR Director supported this ordinance: previous Auditor Gary Blackmer, who created the IPR and ran it for 7 years, and former Director Leslie Stevens, at IPR from mid-2005 to early 2008, both harshly criticized the 2008 Luna Firebaugh report for its conclusion that IPR needed to do more independent investigations (PPR #44). Also of note, Leonard himself disagreed with that report at the time, but has admitted to changing his mind since (Oregonian, March 22).
The "beanbag" shooting of a 12-year-old girl by Officer Chris Humphreys late last year (PPR #49) and other incidents had already led community organizations, including the National Lawyers Guild, to call for changes to the IPR. The Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA)'s Coalition for Justice and Police Reform made strengthing IPR one of its five major demands after Aaron Campbell's death in January (see this issue's article on Aaron Campbell).
Specifically, the ordinance gives the IPR Director the power to ask questions directly to police officers, if the police "union" contract does not prohibit it. Unfortunately, the current contract, which expires at the end of June, requires officers to be interviewed by other police. Answers are compelled as a condition of employment. The ordinance also gives the Director subpoena power, which is intended (1) to question officers from other jurisdictions (Deputy Bret Burton would not respond to Internal Affairs Division [IAD] questions in the Chasse case as he worked for the Sheriff's office at the time), (2) for reluctant witnesses (ambulance company AMR is notorious for not submitting to interviews) and (3) for compelling the production of documents. It is an important distinction that Portland officers not be subpoenaed, in which case they can plead the Fifth Amendment and not give any evidence, but will continue to be compelled to testify under threat of termination, so that they will either talk or be disciplined/fired.
The ordinance also gives IPR jurisdiction over any complaint involving police-civilian interactions. Currently, when the Bureau initiates a case, they can voluntarily allow IPR to look over their shoulders, but aren't required to by law. They made this clear in an email to Baptista after the Bureau initiated its own investigation into the beanbag shooting. In theory, IPR should now be able to investigate deadly force, but the current Portland Police Association (PPA) contract reads "the parties recognize that IPR has no authority or responsibility relating to [shootings and deaths cases]" (Section 62.1.3). We'd love to know who put that little doozy in there.
Sadly, for most civilians calling with a complaint, the system will function exactly as it does now: if IPR agrees the case needs to be investigated, they turn it over to the Bureau's IAD. We know from years of working on this issue that people do not trust a system in which police investigate other police. On the bright side, the IPR may now initiate an investigation even if no complaint is filed.
The other component of the ordinance deals with the Bureau's internal Use of Force and Performance Review Boards. Those boards currently meet according to Bureau Directives. When pervo-cop Joseph Wild was being investigated for lewd phone calls (PPR #48), the PPB failed to contact Baptista, a non-voting member of the boards, to sit in. Chief Sizer reportedly told Baptista and Griffin Valade she could not guarantee it would not happen again, and when challenged about following her own rules, told Baptista "I am the Directives." The new law removes two Assistant Chiefs from the internal boards, combines them under the single name "Police Review Board," and gives the IPR Director a voting seat. In doing so, the law not only requires the Bureau to involve IPR, but gives the Director an important legal tool to empower the compelling of testimony; that is, she will be an "integral part of the disciplinary process" as described in a 1998 Colorado appeals court case addressing the Denver and New York review boards.
Roughly 300 people packed City Hall on March 18 for the first three and a half hour hearing on the ordinance. Leading off were participants in the AMA Coalition, the Latino Network, the League of Women Voters, and others who praised the ordinance as a "good first step." Fortunately, the Council adopted an amendment to the ordinance which calls for a stakeholder group (including Portland Copwatch) to come back with further recommendations 90 days after the law takes effect. This will give time to make other improvements and to add much-needed changes to the IPR's Citizen Review Committee (see this issue's article on the CRC). Commissioners Nick Fish, Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz were among critics upset that Chief Sizer was out of town, wanting to wait until she could testify in person. Fritz also wanted to give her Human Rights Commission time to review the ordinance. Knowing he minimally needed one of their votes, Leonard agreed to continue the hearing until March 31. For that evening hearing, other groups joined the chorus in favor of the changes and packed the chambers nearly as full, and the vote was unanimous.
Not everyone is supportive of the changes. The PPA's attorney, Will Aitchison, testified on March 18 that he feels the ordinance is unconstitutional and violates the "union" contract. Officer Daryl Turner complained in the February Rap Sheet, asking: "What does Commissioner Leonard want, his own little army?... Maybe Randy wants his own little Gestapo to walk into IAD interviews and torture officers to get the outcome he wants." In an apparent metaphorical threat, Turner warns that adding more to an engine (the IPR) doesn't make it go faster, just makes it "heavier, slow running and hotter--until it explodes."
Regarding the "union" contract, PCW believes all workers have the right to collectively bargain for their wages, benefits, and safe working conditions. However, it is not appropriate for the PPA contract to direct public policy--dictating who will investigate alleged misconduct, and in particular, deadly force cases. In late 2009, we contacted the Bureau of Human Resources and were informed that (1) state law allows for public employee negotiations to be open unless both sides want them closed; and (2) the City was not interested in closing the meetings.
Several community members arrived to witness the first round of bargaining on March 12. For two hours, the City and the PPA debated whether the meetings would remain open, with the PPA eventually offering to rent a hotel so that all meetings would not be in public buildings. The City declined to accept, the PPA walked out, and on March 22, they filed an unfair labor practice complaint. This delay gives the City more time to straighten out those parts of the contract that are public policy, rather than job-related.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.