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Police Block Proposal for Advocate;
While the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) has been busy over the last several months, holding its retreat, a public forum, and scrapping with the Bureau about who can support civilian complainants, perhaps its most significant work has been a review of the closed investigation into allegations by whistleblower Lindsay Hunt (also see article). Meanwhile, the Independent Police Review Division (IPR), which houses the CRC, put out its annual report (see article), finally started releasing important outreach and shootings-related information, and made good on a promise to start "rolling out" to officer involved shootings/deaths in custody scenes (see shootings article). The changes that led to IPR's new abilities were supposed to be followed up with more changes, especially to the CRC's powers, but the Stakeholder Report issued last December (PPR #52) is still on the back burner. At its May meeting, CRC also heard from the OIR Group, which was hired to conduct reports on police shootings incidents (see article).
Officer Hunt's Allegations: "The Environment Was Toxic with Regard to Complaining"
At the invitation of Chief Mike Reese, the CRC reviewed the investigative files related to the corruption and brutality complaints made by former Portland Police Bureau Recruit Lindsay Hunt, as well as another recruit, Officer Erin Lewis. At the July meeting, Hunt's attorney Matthew Ellis spoke on her behalf, saying it was difficult for her to come forward because "the environment in the training division...was toxic with regard to complaining about officers."
While CRC was given full access to both the investigative files generated by Hunt's commanding officer, Commander Bret Smith, and the Internal Affairs (IA) files in the Lewis case, they were not given the transcripts of the civil trial. It was clear that most of the members had read much of the coverage in the Oregonian, and that they were not pleased with how the complaints were handled.
For example, they roundly criticized the fact that Smith was allowed to assign himself to investigate the serious charges of taking gratuities, destroying evidence and excessive force, rather than turning the case over to IA. In addition to conducting the investigation, they noted, Smith was also the decision-maker on the outcome. They also were alarmed that (a) a Sergeant who was a witness was involved in the investigation and (b) these charges were handled as "Performance Investigations" ("P-Cases"). Apparently, "P-Cases" are Bureau-initiated, non-disciplinary complaints, like the civilian equivalent "Service Improvement Opportunities."
CRC member Andre Pruitt grilled the Bureau on whether it was standard to move Hunt from one precinct to another, implying it was done in retaliation for her complaints. Training Captain Bob Day, turning bright red, replied: "I'm passionate about that, Mr. Pruitt... We want success." CRC Chair Jamie Troy added that Hunt was moved after being labeled "too good to be true."
Member Jeff Bissonnette asked about the use of a strike on the shoulder when trying to handcuff one suspect. Commander Day said that there are times when an open hand strike or closed fist can be "acceptable in the totality of the circumstances."
Pruitt also noted that one officer used his firearm to sweep open a window, thus pointing the gun at the person inside. Captain Dave Famous, of the Professional Standards division (which includes IA) said that cops don't have to fill out use of force forms if they accidentally point their weapons at people. Isn't one basic rule of firearms use that if you point a gun at someone, you had better be meaning to use it?
So the good news is, apparently because of the 2010 changes to the IPR ordinance, such a case now has to go to both IA and the IPR before a Commander can investigate. Both bodies claim that nowadays, they would not allow a Precinct investigation to happen for these kinds of allegations. CRC reviewed a case of substance in public, with the names of the officers and complainants used, unlike at many of their appeal hearings. IPR Director Mary-Beth Baptista, echoing a concern from attorney Ellis that five of six people who failed the same probation period were women, noted that some kind of gender training is needed. This was a particularly important statement, as Commander Day explained that they don't teach officers any differently if they are men or women. By ignoring the differences in gender, societal sexism, and therefore the problems that women might face in the Bureau, they actually help perpetuate these problems. (We've been talking about gender parity training for years, particularly after six officers left the force after committing sexual misconduct-- PPR #49.)
Another good part of this review: Both the attorney and Chair Troy noted the flaws in using police to investigate the misconduct of other police. (Troy even referred to the public being "skeptical" about such a system.) Also, Captain Famous agreed with CRC member Rochelle Silver's suggestion that CRC should review more recent closed cases to see how much things have "improved."
What remains to be seen is whether the attention will result in more whistleblower protection: Sure, officers can now take their complaints directly to IPR, but (a) IPR still will turn over the case to IA for investigation, and (b) the officers might be violating Bureau policy on reporting issues up the chain of command by doing so.
Finally, while the CRC's review of the case was important, they had no power to recommend changed findings or further investigation as they would have at a regular appeal hearing. There has not been such a hearing now in over a year (also see annual report article).
New Improvements at IPR Include Shootings, Outreach Reports
In June, for the first time since the hiring of Outreach coordinator Irene Konev in March 2009, the IPR Director's report to the CRC included information coming back from the community to IPR. Prior to Konev's hiring, community members stressed how important it would be for outreach to not just be about touting the IPR's existence, but to hear concerns from "the street." In just the first two reports, the concerns reflected include: Racial profiling, youth being stopped, low trust, fear of retaliation, fear of police (and gangs), and a desire for cultural sensitivity in Asian, Native, and African American communities.
IPR also began including a table showing the progress of shootings and deaths in custody being investigated by police, which include the officers' and victims' names, a first for IPR in its 10 year existence. (See shootings article for details.)
In another new development, the Auditor had City Council change the IPR Director's position from one protected by Civil Service to an "at will" position. While there are concerns about what that could mean if a future Auditor biased in favor of police has an IPR Director who is truly an advocate for seeking accountability, it also means that we no longer have to wait for a substandard IPR Director to resign (as has happened twice in the past--PPRs #35 and 44).
Professional Standards Captain Supports Expanded Appeals Advisor but Blocks Full Advocate Role
For several years, we at Portland Copwatch have been calling attention to the unfairness of CRC appeals hearings, at which the complaining civilian sits, usually alone, in a room surrounded by police, IPR staff, and nine strangers (the CRC) to hear their concerns about the police investigation of their complaint. The CRC answered this concern in 2005 with the addition of an Appeals Process Advisor (APA) to guide the appellant through what to expect at the hearing, but not to speak. In late 2009, CRC agreed to let volunteer law students with the National Lawyers Guild act as advocates for appellants (PPR #50).
Because APAs are selected from a pool of former CRC members, it is more likely that the civilian will have an APA than a volunteer advocate.
The idea of an advocate for civilian complainants dates back to the 2000 Mayor's Work Group on PIIAC. That Group, including police and police sympathizers, voted unanimously for such advocates to be part of the new system, which turned out to be the advocate-less IPR.
At their July meeting, the CRC's Appeals Work Group presented two proposed versions of the APA guidelines to the entire Committee. The good news is, with the support of Captain Famous, who spoke passionately of his frustration when an appellant got off topic and the APA could not speak, both versions provide for the APA to directly address the CRC. Famous also supported both versions allowing the Process Advisor access to review all of the Internal Affairs files on the case, which is something all CRC members do when preparing for the hearing. And even though police officers accused of misconduct are encouraged to read their police reports and others' (Rap Sheet, August 2011) and know what they told IA, at this point, they apparently do not have access to the investigative files.
However, when CRC asked that other members of the public, specifically members of the Police Review Board (PRB), be able to act as APAs, Famous sharply told them "no." This ignores that PRB members have to undergo the same background checks as CRC members, and their role, like CRC's, is reviewing Internal Affairs files to decide whether an officer has acted within policy. Famous, Baptista, and IPR Assistant Director Constantin Severe all shut down the proposal to expand the pool of APAs. They claim PRB members do not have the same "skillset" as former CRC members. But perhaps the true reason came out when Baptista said that CRC's role is to bridge understanding between the community and the police, but that is not the role of the PRB. In other words, PRB members, who are making judgments on the most serious cases, in closed-door hearings with a majority of police at the table (which the complainant can't even attend), are deliberately being kept from contact with the general public, even though their purpose is allegedly to represent the public's point of view at PRB hearings.
The other disagreement was whether the APA should be able to help prepare and deliver the appellant's opening statement and part or all of the presentation, thereby becoming a true Advocate. In the weaker model, the APA may help the civilian prepare to "most effectively appear" before the CRC, but the rules are vague as to what that means. Chair Troy told the CRC that he would not want to be an advocate because he, as a lawyer, would not want to be privy to confidential information in the IA files that he was unable to share with his "client" (the appellant). It is unclear how it will be any different for an APA who is not an Advocate but is able to read those files. Also, Troy said if an appellant did not show up to the hearing, an APA could read the appellant's statements to CRC. However, the APA would not have been allowed to write that statement, while an Advocate would.
At the August 10 meeting, CRC members asked Captain Famous what he thought about inserting some of the "Advocate" guidelines into the "enhanced" model. Because Famous was unable to actively support any changes made, CRC deferred to him (some say "caved") and voted for the less specific, less strong version.
CRC Holds June Public Forum, May Retreat Featuring Eugene Review Board Member
On June 22, the CRC held its third public forum since early 2010. Only about 18 people showed up, and only about 11 members of the general public spoke. There was some racial diversity, and some important comments about racial profiling, excessive force, and displacement of Native American and African American communities. One man reported that the City paid out $6 million in 2008-2010 for lawsuits and legal fees over police misconduct (see lawsuits article).
Unfortunately, though CRC emphasized how much they wanted to hear from the community, they began hearing public testimony one hour into the two-hour forum and cut it off after just over 50 minutes. CRC members took up some of that time responding to comments. Before the public comment, lengthy presentations about the Auditor's report on Tasers (which the CRC was not involved in) and the changes made to IPR by Council in 2010 (presented by Severe rather than a CRC member) took up most of the time. In trying to follow up on questions raised at the earlier forums about drug testing of police, CRC member Hank Miggins was unable to describe the content of the new agreement between the City and the police "union" (see article).
Despite the low turnout and unnecessary limiting of input, we hope CRC continues to hold these important forums to hear more concerns about police accountability.
In early May, the CRC held their bi-annual retreat. They discussed various forms of police oversight bodies, then heard from special guest Tim Laue of the Eugene Civilian Review Board. Laue noted that Eugene's board can review Internal Affairs investigations but does not hold public hearings (unlike in Portland). They do have a power not available to CRC: They can call for an independent investigation in a high profile incident. That happened once for a protest action, and they wanted to do it in the case of a college exchange student hit by a Taser, but complexities with his home country led them to drop it. Laue also said retaliation is a big fear for Eugene complainants.
CRC also set its main goals for the year: To push for the changes promised by the City including those recommended by CRC, the IPR Stakeholder Group, and others, and to start a new work group on recruitment and retention of officers. PCW raised concerns that such policies do not directly generate the misconduct complaints received by IPR and heard by CRC, and noted that the Community/Police Relations Committee is also working on that issue. CRC agreed to talk to the CPRC, and may include elements such as the Employee Information System and discipline as part of the new work group.
Finally, CRC whittled down their "tracking list" of topics they promised to work on but have shelved over the years, from over 70 to about 15 items. While there is much to be said for brevity, we hope that the other items do not get lost in the dustbin of history.
Contact the IPR at 503-823-0146 or see http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/ipr .
Other IPR/CRC News:
--After the CRC adopted a revised protocol on reviewing police policies, the Auditor posted it as-is to the City's website. This was a change from when she rearranged the previous draft, cutting out some public comment from the protocol in late 2009 (PPR #49).
--In June, CRC member Silver proposed, in light of streets being named for fallen officers in the Springfield/Eugene area, that CRC ask for a street to be named after James Chasse, Jr (who was killed by Portland Police in 2006--PPR #40). Director Baptista gave a questionable speech about how the IPR does not intend to be accused of being "too cozy" with the police, as they have in the past, emphasizing how CRC needs to be seen as neutral and unbiased. In July, Silver withdrew her proposal.
--In August, members of the Native American Re-habilitation Association spoke about issues regarding trust in government that create barriers with police.
--PCW is urging the City's Charter Review Commission to put IPR, the Human Rights
Commission and the Ombudsman's office into the Charter with independent legal counsel to avoid
conflicts of interest. The idea, which pre-dates 2007's Charter Commission, doesn't seem to be
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through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.