People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Other Information Contact info
Community/Police Relations Committee Tackles Race and Force
CPRC dove into the "Officer Skills" discussion by community members expressing their personal experiences with apparently biased policing. African American Officer Deanna Wesson-Mitchell, who spent much time on the City's 2007-2008 Racial Profiling Committee arguing about the meaning of stop data and talking about how there is more crime committed by African Americans (PPR #44), spoke up to say that "if you are not of the majority it is difficult to work" in Portland. In emails to Portland Copwatch (PCW) after the meeting, Wesson-Mitchell clarified that "The difficulty comes not so much from being treated differently, but moreso because it is usually assumed that everyone (no matter their cultural background) will act, think, communicate and believe like the majority. This is no different than life in general in the US where being, acting, and communicating like a white person is considered 'normal.' PPB is just under a bigger magnifying glass and more homogenous than most places."
Fellow CPRC member Tori Lopez, who works with the County's Juvenile Parole and Probation office, pledged to support Wesson-Mitchell's work to educate the police about racism.
After many months of work, the CPRC was able to review the final version of their Use of Force recommendations at their July 20 meeting. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) had passed the report forward to Chief Reese on July 6. While many of the recommendations are good, the overall tone of the report supports the notion that police work, to use their words, "requires the use of force." For a group tasked with being sure Portland's population enjoys the rights spelled out in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is distressing that despite our objections, the HRC left in the sentence, "Though review systems could be enhanced and training strengthened, we believe that the PPB policies uphold human rights." Perhaps the policies are in line with the Universal Declaration, but policies that allow and encourage use of torture devices such as Tasers, using deadly force, and depriving people of their liberty do not, in our opinion, "uphold" rights.
A section on "race, ethnicity and gender" notes that African Americans make up 25% of arrests and 29% of use of force reports. It fails to note, however, that 34% of the time police point their guns, it is at African Americans, and that they use pepper spray at over twice the rate against African Americans than other races (9% vs 4%). It calls for analyzing data in a more meaningful way by, for instance, listing the suspected crime compared to the force used along with race. It also calls for diversifying the Bureau by recruiting Cadets from local schools, among other things. A recommendation to teach officers about the history of Portland's neighborhoods and changing demographics was supposedly enacted in early 2010 under Chief Sizer, but nobody seems to know what happened to that program.
A section on people with mental illness suggests a specialized unit, such as exists for domestic violence calls. It also calls for more partnering with community mental health organizations to find ways of reducing use of force.
In reviewing the force policy, they recommend "remov[ing] references to the mechanical model" and inserting language about "totality of the circumstances." PCW has repeatedly urged that the "levels of control" table be retained so that officers know what levels of force are prohibited under what circumstances, to avoid their using unreasonably high levels of force and then falling back on this vague standard to justify it (see IPR article). To their credit, CPRC includes the idea that prohibitions against use of Tasers should also apply to less lethal shotguns, including creating consistent verbal warnings for their use.
They note that Taser use represents 36% of all Portland's use of force incidents, citing a national study that says Tasers are associated with a higher probability of injury compared to other force. (Actually, the study "Conducted Energy Devices and Citizen Injuries: The Shocking Empirical Reality" in Justice Quarterly's February 22 issue, includes the pinholes left by Taser darts as a form of injury, so it is unclear whether the severity of injury was considered in the study.) To our great relief, CPRC calls upon the Bureau to resume collecting data when officers merely point the Taser's laser sight on suspects, something Chief Sizer did away with while the Racial Profiling Committee was still convened in 2007 (also PPR #44). Another good recommendation is to allow exceptions to using Tasers on prohibited individuals (young, elderly, medically fragile, etc.) only if officers have attempted other "control options." They also suggest that whenever the Bureau "introduces a new weapon system," review and analysis should take place; PCW strongly stated that such review must include the community. At the same time, we thanked them for using the term "weapon" because in some parts of the document and in earlier drafts, they referred to Tasers and shotguns as "tools."
Because the subcommittee working on the report included Police Sergeant Tony Passadore, many of the recommendations include urging Sergeants to be more directly involved in guiding and debriefing officers in use of force incidents. Passadore, for all his inability to understand why the community might not want to go up and shake the hand of every police officer they see, was surprisingly gracious in the process, urging the HRC not to vote on the report without carefully reading it first, as well as admitting he at first opposed the idea of reporting "Taser light only" but came around to supporting it. However, Passadore's somewhat narrow vision of police led to an impassioned talk at CPRC about increasing police presence in a North Portland neighborhood plagued by violence (perhaps "gang-related") which seemed to support profiling all young black males. He also trumpeted the fact that Chief Reese is reviewing many of the Bureau's important policies not just with his Assistant Chiefs but all of the Commanders as well. PCW pointed out that so far as we know, that entire command staff is white and male.
For all their renewed focus on one of the reasons they were created, the CPRC has not looked at the detailed traffic and pedestrian stop data from 2008 and 2009, which were provided to PCW by the Urban League. Those data continue to show that African Americans, who make up 6% of the population, are stopped in cars (13%), stopped on foot or on bicycles (23%) and searched (24% versus whites at 12%) disproportionately to their presence in Portland. The data also show that police find contraband on African Americans and Latinos at a rate of 4/5 as often as they do on white drivers. These numbers have been mostly consistent since 2004 and show that while CPRC is doing some good work around their 14-person table, they need to find a way to translate their work onto the streets.
CPRC meets the 3rd Wednesday each month at 4:30 PM at the Office of Human Relations.
• Live Rounds Wound Man;
Portland Copwatch Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability
through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.