People's Police Report
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Citizen Review Committee Still Not Hearing Appeals, but Hearing
Lots of Cops
The Citizen Review Committee (CRC), what most Portlanders think of as their civilian police review board, has not heard an appeal about a case of alleged misconduct for 10 months. This is the second longest stretch in the history of the CRC with no appeals heard; the previous record was 18 months between February '08 and August, '09. In the meantime, they have had three presentations from police--none of which were about accountability--and continued their seemingly endless review of their own procedures. The Independent Police Review Division (IPR) which houses the CRC, revealed more information in a quarterly report regarding findings of officer misconduct and displayed systemic shortcomings at CRC member orientations.
City Auditor Lavonne Griffin Valade, whose office includes IPR and CRC, worked with the IPR Director to solicit, interview and hire an agency to review police shootings without informing the entire CRC she was doing so. Many CRC members expressed concern that they first learned the process had even begun after Portland Copwatch (PCW) sent them email that the new contract with the Los Angeles-based OIR group was on the City Council agenda in early March (see OIR article).
Valade also seems content that the Stakeholder Report seeking changes to the IPR (PPR #52) has been put on ice. City Council promised to look at recommendations based on the Report in mid- January, but then postponed the issue until the question of re-joining the Joint Terrorism Task Force can be resolved (see JTTF article). In a meeting with PCW and the League of Women Voters asking Valade about, for example, changing the CRC's standard of review to a more easily understandable "preponderance of the evidence," Valade referred to her response to the Report: "If we said no, the answer is no." What a great, open and transparent oversight system.
Tasers/Less Lethals: Police Seek "Control Technique to Get Them to Do What We Want"
At their March meeting, the CRC heard a presentation from Training Division Lt. Robert King about less lethal weapons the Bureau is planning to purchase: extremely hot pepper spray; Tasers with longer darts; and long-range Taser X-REP (eXtended Range Electronic Projectile) electroshock devices that can be fired from shotguns. Although the Bureau and the City Attorney have been asking for input from community groups on its Use of Force and Taser policies (see CPRC article), and although the CRC has been studying complaints about uses of less lethal weapons for about a year, the purchase of these new weapons appears to be a done deal. The Bureau has requested funding from City Council, but the budget vote will not be until sometime in late May or June.
King's presentation, as with the City Attorney's dog-and-pony shows, focused on how "infrequently" police use force: 1237 times in one year, which they emphasize is less than one percent of all encounters, but still means police use force over three times a day.
King did talk about reducing the amount of "violence" and "aggression," explaining the Bureau sped up efforts to find alternatives to the many shootings since January 2010 (see shootings article), while balancing officer and community safety. King described wanting less lethals to use on suspects before they attack officers, or a "control technique to get them to do what we want." PCW suggested they talk to people who have been hit with Tasers as part of their research.
The X-REP has an 80-foot range; the device sticks to the suspect and unfolds six "chollas," which then make a second point of contact and zap the person with electricity for 20 seconds, four times longer than hand-held devices. A special wire rolls out so when the subject grabs it to pull the X- REP off of them, they complete the circuit and deliver the shock to themselves. This hardly seems humane. The Bureau already bought one of the weapons and hopes to get five more so two are available in each precinct.
The new Taser cartridges will have half-inch probes, rather than the current 1/3 inch, and wires that reach 25 feet instead of 21. The logic is that the shorter probes aren't able to get through thick winter clothing. However, when asked whether the Bureau will carry both lengths of darts for people who have light (or no) clothing on, King said all officers will carry the longer probes.
The new "Red Sabre" pepper spray delivers 2 million "scoville units," four times more powerful than the currently used spray. (A "medium hot" jalapeno has 17,000 scoville units.) While PCW raised concerns about the spray being used indiscriminately at protests, King says the "fire extinguisher" style canisters will contain the old spray, meaning the Red Sabre is reserved for one- on-one use. PCW reminded the CRC that pepper spray contributed to the death of Dickie Dow in 1998 (PPR #26).
Also on the shopping list is the "Tiger light," a flashlight hiding pepper spray in the back end. King said the Bureau would ask the City Attorney whether there is a conflict of interest in buying the weapons, since the Tiger light was invented by Portland Police Officer Randy Tieg (PPR #23).
CRC member Rochelle Silver, also on the CRC's Taser/Less Lethal Work Group, raised a number of concerns, including that "bigger isn't better," and challenging the police diagnosis of "excited delirium" for so many who have died after Taser use. In related news, the Taser Work Group held a rare "executive session" in January to discuss one particular case, meaning the public could not attend. Apparently the incident involves a minor violation that was escalated by the police.
Canine Unit Presentation: "Better They're in Harm's Way Than People"
The CRC's February meeting agenda announced a presentation on "the K9 unit - an effective less- lethal tool." As we've said repeatedly, just because something achieves your end goal and is "effective" doesn't mean it's appropriate. It's effective to tape an unruly child to a chair, but may not be the right thing to do. Also, a "tool" is something usually used to construct or deconstruct objects; a dog is a sentient being, and its bite can cause serious injury.
Traffic Division Lt. Eric Schober and three officers made a presentation which included one of the dogs jumping up, biting an officer's heavily padded arm, and then repeating the "trick" on CRC member Jeff Bissonnette. As much as the officers seem to have bonded with the dogs, they also have no qualms about sending the animals into dangerous situations: "Better they're in harm's way than people."
The Bureau has 10 handlers and about as many dogs on patrol, with separate dogs for bomb- and drug-sniffing. The unit was trying to build support by arguing San Diego's officer-involved shootings went down after expanding their canine unit to 40 dogs. They also mentioned each dog costs $8500 to import from Europe.
The officers admit to having been bitten by their own dogs, and talked about a dog who mistakenly identified an innocent person. They claim there is little civil liability with dogs. However, Josef Baltyansky filed a $1.3 million suit in January against the PPB for dog bites that sent him to the hospital for surgery on his knee, which was torn open when he was mistaken for a suspect (Oregonian, January 13).
In 2010, the unit made 182 captures, 18 ending with dog bites. "It hurts--not that big a deal" said one officer; "it's better than lethal force." The officers also noted dogs can go into rooms and around corners, and can be called back, unlike "beanbags" and Tasers. Schober said dogs are the second oldest less lethal "tools" besides batons, going back to the 1950s. PCW raised the concern that many in the African American community still think of dogs and their role attacking civil rights protestors (not to mention runaway slaves), while the issue of white people in gentrified neighborhoods bringing in dogs led to a debate in recent years (St. Johns Sentinel, December 2007 &ff.). This certainly was of concern when a police dog was released on Aaron Campbell as he was shot in the back in January 2010 (PPR #50).
The officers told PCW they don't keep statistics on the race of people tracked by police dogs. PCW suggested the Bureau buy more padded armor like the trainers' sleeve to confront people with small knives, such as Jackie Collins' X-Acto knife (PPR #53).
In GREAT Program, Cops Teach Kids to Think for Themselves, So Long as Cops are Their Friends
At the CRC's January meeting, Sgt. Frank Gorgone spoke about the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program. Gorgone acknowledged some pitfalls of police engaging in what is really social work: Showing up in a uniform can be a "turn off" to parents, for example. He says when they show episodes of "Cops" to students, who are elementary school and middle school ages, they point out the TV reality program is "glamorous/glorified."
Gorgone said they teach kids social skills, communication, and conflict resolution over 13 weeks, hoping they learn to think for themselves and not join gangs. They want to get to know the kids other than as victims or suspects, and for them to see the cops as more than a "blue suit." While the goals are worthy, when PCW's Dan Handelman asked how the GREAT team reconciles making friends with people but then going out and roughing up them or their friends, Gorgone didn't seem to understand. He said he tells them "If you do wrong I'll hold you accountable," giving the example of drawing police attention by wearing red in a group. That doesn't explain how police expect to continue having the teens' trust when they are face down with a police gun at their heads.
Independent Police Review Staff and Internal Affairs Explain Complaint System to New and Old CRC members
In early February, City Council appointed two new CRC members: Steve Yarosh, a former prosecutor and defense attorney; and Andre Pruitt, a social worker who has friends who are officers, but also has had run-ins with police. As such, PCW told Council that on paper these seem to be ideal candidates: they can see both the officers' point of view and the community's. There are now eight men and one woman on the CRC (Rochelle Silver was re-appointed at the Council hearing, as was then-Chair Michael Bigham), with six European-Americans, two African-Americans (Hank Miggins and Pruitt) and one Arab-American (Ayoob Ramjan). The last Latino to sit on the board was Yarosh's wife, Irma Valdez, who resigned in July 2005, 18 months into her term.
In March, the IPR set up a series of orientations for new and continuing CRC members. Assistant Director Constantin Severe, acting as Director while Mary-Beth Baptista is on maternity leave until mid-May, led the discussion about how IPR functions. Lt. Chris Davis (who was involved in the shooting of Jose Mejia Poot in April, 2001--PPR #24) represented Internal Affairs, now called IA having dropped the term "Division" in its name.
While Severe's background as a criminal defense attorney might lead to skepticism about police conduct, he has embraced the IPR's historical trend to be conciliatory rather than confrontational. For example, when describing the process of pursuing complaints, he noted IPR has to be careful of Constitutional and administrative rules because it "could end an officer's career." Too bad officers don't share those concerns for civilians when doling out justice on the streets.
Severe admitted IPR has never conducted its own investigation, despite having the power to do so since 2002. At the February CRC meeting, he blamed a lack of resources. Severe's position was originally half-time and the Council may cut the second half. PCW's Regina Hannon noted the City has tens of thousands of dollars for sit-lie ordinance signage (see Sit/Lie article), but not for police oversight. IPR has 2.5 full time staff doing intake investigations, and receives 400 complaints per year, an average of less than two cases a day. It is hard to understand why they can't conduct one independent investigation.
Again inadvertently discrediting IPR, Severe said IPR recently adopted guidelines not to accept a complaint if "they can't prove it," basing the question at intake on "art, not science." This is an example of the system's lack of due process. While some CRC members worry about some complainants getting assistance when others do not, it is clear that some people get their complaints taken seriously at the front end and others do not.
Similarly, the Police Review Board (PRB), which holds hearings on shootings and when officers face time off or termination, now allows officers to examine Internal Affairs documents, but civilians are not even allowed at the hearings.
Lt. Davis said as the employer, the Bureau is bound by the same rules as Walmart; yet (a) Walmart's employees are not in a collective bargaining unit, (b) the City is not a private corporation, and (c) most Walmart employees do not carry guns. Davis says IA may decline to investigate cases from IPR either because it's "better than" doing a Service Improvement Opportunity (a non- disciplinary complaint), or there's no chance they can prove the allegations. We argue it's better to investigate and come out with an "unproven" finding than to dismiss the complaint.
Davis called the IPR system a "healthy process of review," saying "the more eyes the better." Maybe IA will publish their files for public consumption some day.
If You Pay Attention, Police Misconduct is Revealed
As noted last issue, the IPR's Quarterly Reports contain information about officers found out of policy through the complaint process. In the fourth quarter 2010 issue, they report allegations were sustained against an officer who "kicked [a young person] in the stomach, used excessive force in subduing the youth and [failed to] file a police report detailing his use of force."
The CRC's Appeals Work Group discussed case 2009-x-0008 about an officer accused of road rage (PPR #51). They revealed when IA could not find the 9-1-1 call the complainant said he made (which turned out to have bounced to Washington state), they described him as a "10-34," meaning they thought he had mental health problems. The Workgroup dismissed PCW's concern that this too should be considered an act of misconduct.
The March IPR Director's report listed one case as 910 days old because they only began investigating it recently; this means the incident happened in September, 2008, and may be tied to a lawsuit. This is important as officers, even if found liable for civil rights violations by a jury, are not ordinarily disciplined for their behavior (see lawsuits article).
Other IPR/CRC News:
--In January, Director Baptista said IPR has been involved with the investigations of recent shootings "from the beginning."
--Also in January, the CRC adopted the Recurring Audit Work Group's revised report on "Service Improvement Opportunities" (PPR #52). The Work Group replaced a recommendation for CRC to examine IPR cases at intake with a suggestion that CRC "initiate a dialogue with IPR." This weak language was adopted on a 6-1 vote, with then-CRC Vice Chair Jamie Troy against. The Group now turns its focus to dismissed cases.
--The Appeals Work Group may expand the role of Appeals Process Advisors (APAs), including allowing them to speak. The Group heard from former CRC members who have acted as APAs. Since all CRC members are vetted through a criminal background check, they may be allowed to view files at IA as current CRC members can, creating a more level playing field. At the April CRC meeting, Lt. Davis admitted the current process is "lopsided" and hinted that IA may be open to the idea. Meanwhile, the Work Group got tripped up worrying people might see family members or friends "saying bad things about them" in the files.
--In April, Troy was voted in as Chair and Bigham was made Vice Chair.
Chief: 5 shootings "unacceptable"
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Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.