People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Police Shootings Report: Criticism Bolsters Community Concerns
In late May, Los Angeles' OIR Group* released the first of three projected reports on Portland Police Bureau (PPB) shootings and deaths in custody, covering seven shootings from 2004 to 2010. The report rightly criticizes the PPB for being slow to learn from its mistakes, and repeats concerns which have been raised in the community for years. While their suggestions are mostly appropriate and useful, many recommendations beyond the 13 enumerated by OIR are buried in the report. A few weeks earlier, the City Auditor released a separate report on "Portland Police Bureau learning" which made similar recommendations, but shared the shortcoming with OIR of referencing policies or training based only on statements from the police without documented evidence. Both reports, unlike earlier reports by the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC PPR #47 and earlier), list both suspects and involved officers by name (albeit the Auditor's report only uses names in its appendix). However, OIR's report goes into detail about other officers without using names, causing some confusion. The largest disappointment is that the OIR report does not emphasize that more civilian involvement in the oversight system would lead to a more objective investigation and outcome. "Police investigating the police" has been part of the community mistrust in these cases for time immemorial.
The most significant "invisible" recommendation by OIR: just because some officers found the Training Division's analysis of the Aaron Campbell shooting to be controversial (see "Rapping Back" and article, this issue.), the Bureau should not refrain from imitating the Campbell review's thorough and straightforward analysis in the future. PCW found at least eight other recommendations buried in the report, including that the Bureau should always use grand jury transcripts for its administrative investigations of shootings.
The OIR report indicates an intent to focus on Bureau interactions with people in mental health crisis. While it does make a few appropriate recommendations on this subject, it lacks a detailed analysis of current Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training and whether and how that training could have been incorporated into the scenarios at hand. To their credit, OIR's first recommendation is to keep training all officers in CIT (Reese agreed) and to hold officers accountable if they don't use their CIT training during critical incidents (Reese didn't respond).
OIR Group did not look at the racial component of Portland's shootings. In this report alone, three of the seven shooting victims were African Americans, and they were the only three who did not have weapons on them. Jahar Perez (PPR #32) and Aaron Campbell (PPR #50) shootings generated significant public outcry; the third case, of Paul Stewart (PPR #42), had its own significance.
As PCW has pointed out for years, Stewart was shot in the back of the head by a police sniper while talking to a negotiator on the phone (he lived); his was the second of three such cases, all examined by OIR group, with similar scenarios of snipers firing because they did not have sufficient information from others on scene. The others were Raymond Gwerder (PPR #37) and Campbell. Both OIR and the Auditor indicate that these communication issues have not necessarily been remedied.
OIR also suggests (and in his written response, Chief Reese agrees) that the City and Bureau should eliminate the Police Association's so-called "48-hour rule," which gives officers two days before they can be compelled to an interview. (PCW questions whether that rule--PPA contract section 220.127.116.11--even applies to shootings). Other recommendations include "re-examining" multiple Taser cycles, which falls short of specific restrictions that PARC suggested in their 2009 report.
It is significant that four of the seven incidents led to settlements totalling over $2 million. Perhaps in the next report, OIR will recommend briefing officers on how their actions might cost the people they're sworn to protect; or better yet, that such payments come from the Bureau's budget... or the officers' salaries.
The Auditor's report, apparently done without notifying either OIR or the Citizen Review Committee, lists multiple suggestions made by the PPB's internal systems, some of which have never been implemented. Notably, one of these was to improve training on whether to shoot at moving vehicles-- a problem that could have been addressed in 2003 (and 2006, the report notes) but led to a shooting in July this year (see article). The Auditor looked at structural and technological processes including the Employee Intervention System (EIS), which only became fully functional in December 2011 despite the technology being in place since 2007. They made seven formal recommendations including annual performance reviews (which the AMA Coalition called for during "union" contract negotiations), a discipline matrix (which could benefit both the cops and the community), speeding up disciplinary investigations (a complaint since before the year 2000), improving oversight for the SERT team, publishing EIS reports, and reducing turnover in management positions.
Auditor's report: http://www.portlan donline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=53777&a=397351
*The Office of Independent Review is a formal government-sanctioned group that looks into deadly force incidents in Los Angeles County; people involved in that "OIR" created the separate, private OIR Group to consult with other agencies.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.