People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Rapping Back #60
Perhaps reflective of our 20 years repeating back shocking, surprising and scintillating parts of the Portland Police Association's Rap Sheet, their recent past issues focus on themes similar to those seen in the People's Police Report: The US Department of Justice (DOJ) lawsuit against the City (article here), the oversight system (that article here), and police shootings (more here).
In the June issue of the Rap Sheet, PPA President Daryl Turner wrote that the PPA supports the Agreement between the City and the DOJ, with the caveat that they want to be sure rank and file officers' bargaining rights are protected. Even though most of the Agreement was written avoiding key contract issues such as compelling officer testimony and the "48-hour rule," Turner states: "We made every reasonable attempt to resolve our differences through our mediation with the City and DOJ," but those talks failed before coming to "prompt and extremely cost effective implementation of policy changes." It's difficult to know if the "cost effective" reference means Turner was willing to offer up changes without asking for huge raises (the PPA basically received more money to accept changes to the oversight system in 2011-- PPR #54), or the potential costs of the DOJ taking the lawsuit to trial. Turner says the issues are officer safety, workload issues and training concerns.
However, it also seems the PPA disagrees with the finding that there is a pattern and practice of excessive force by the cops against people who are or who appear to be in mental health crisis. Their May issue features a long analysis by Kevin Davis of LawOfficer.com tearing apart the DOJ for critiquing officers who put themselves in harm's way, then used force because of those bad decisions. With apologies to pigs, says Davis, "You can put lipstick on a pig... but it's still a pig... stop applying face paint to an old and outdated porker." Referring to the practice of "segmentation," also known as "decision-point" analysis, Davis emphasizes several court cases which are cited in the DOJ's letter of findings. For example, Graham v. Connor, which sets the criteria of officer use of force under the "totality of the circumstances," states: "Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chamber... violates the Fourth Amendment."
Other cases caution those judging officers not to return to the individual decisions, since one can always find things that could be done differently. In a strange twist of logic, Dickerson v. McClellan states that while the officers' presence is what led to the violence in the first place, officers always "cause trouble" because society pays them to do so.
For what it's worth, Davis supports the existence of Crisis Intervention Teams to work with people with mental health issues, but notes that their training consists of "talk is cool, if it's possible, if not, some kind of controlling force, either impact or electrical, is recommended." He downplays the importance of using time and patience, stating "it's nice to think... communication skills and a kind heart will prevent police use of force with the mentally ill [sic], but it's simply not true." He claims that people in mental health crisis "often" hurt cops and/or themselves or others "when controlling force is not applied," urging the DOJ to support use of impact weapons and Tasers.
PPA President Turner makes some compelling points about flaws in the current Police Review Board (PRB) system, while essentially encouraging officers not to cooperate when they are being investigated. Where we'd agree with Turner, asking "Where is the equity" in the June Rap Sheet, is that the PRB's hearings, which are held behind closed doors and include the officers' supervisors as voting members, do not provide for the officer in question to bring in witnesses or evidence. What Turner misses, of course, is that the civilian who was harmed in the incident being reviewed also has no right to bring in testimony-- in fact, the victims don't even get to appear before the PRB even though the officers do. So while he is right to question the City's efforts to "sell us on the idea that the PRB is a fair and equitable vehicle for transparency and independent oversight," there are more issues than Turner wants to address.
Interestingly, Turner doesn't even mention the fact that the PRB includes 1-2 civilian members and a staff person from the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR). He does, however, criticize the fact that the peer officers (again, 1-2 per board) are chosen by the Chief without input from the PPA. He compares it to a jury being picked without input from lawyers-- which again, ignores the shutting out of the victims in these cases. It is interesting, though, that the PPA can't appear on behalf of the officer if he/she decides not to go to the hearing; it seems that even having an advocate for the civilian victim would be a step up and, if it were truly made equitable for both sides, we'd likely support Turner on this idea. Because the PRB, including its advisory members, can discuss officers' previous history and go into "executive session" excluding the cop and the PPA, Turner declares "obviously this process is highly prejudicial to the involved member... This kind of character assassination isn't even allowed in the criminal court system."
In sum, he thinks the Boards (which admittedly are mostly about "Sustained" findings, but also include reviews of police shootings in which officers are almost never found out of policy) are set up for officers to "fall on their sword" without expressing mitigating circumstances for their behavior.
On a related topic, Turner returned to a frequently-repeated reminder, presenting a guide to Internal Affairs (IA) investigations in the May issue. He urges officers to contact the PPA right away when notified of an IA inquiry-- suggesting using a phone, not email. (Perhaps to be sure there is no paper trail?) As we've noted before (PPR #52, for example), the advice given by cops to other cops in these situations sounds a lot like advice civil rights attorneys give to civilians-- to the frustration of the police. They say only to answer what is asked, only answer yes or no, and to "NEVER EVER go to IAD [sic]... without PPA representation." One huge difference, though, between a civilian facing police or court inquiries and the cops at IA: Officers are given "documents, reports, memos, audio and video recordings to review." This ability makes the Internal Affairs process even more unfair than Portland's oversight consisting of police investigating other police (IPR still doesn't have the power to compel officer testimony): not only are civilians denied access to those files, even if they have a legal advocate, that person can't review those records. However, beginning in 2012, Appeals Process Advisors, former members of the Citizen Review Committee, can see those police records if a complainant appeals the findings of an investigation-- but can't share that information with the complainant.
Side note: In another article in the May Rap Sheet, Kevin Keaney, who handles the PPA's disability claims, urges officers to "tell the truth" during medical exams related to benefits. Turner's advice about IA does not include such an admonition.
In addition to an article by Turner released shortly after the OIR Group's report on officer-involved shootings that ran in the July Rap Sheet, two outside pieces question community concerns about deadly force being excessive in some cases.
Turner's piece talks about the adrenaline surge experienced by officers hearing "shots fired, officer down" on the radio, as they rush to the scene wondering who was involved and what happened. (But not, was it within policy, or, was the suspect unarmed.) He emphasizes that the PPA will provide representation to involved and witness officers, reminding them they are covered by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. (Again, advice the police are reluctant to give a civilian suspect in a shooting.) Midway through, the article begins sounding like someone other than Turner, and it well may be: He talks about the physiological changes that happen after an incident, using the research of Alexis Artwohl, who once lived in Portland but now works with the dubious Force Science Research Center (FSRC) in Minnesota. Turner talks about an "adrenaline dump" during critical incidens that leads to one's perception of pain and hearing going down, with awareness and distortions going up. Other symptoms include memory loss, nausea, dry mouth and sweats. Therefore, Artwohl recommends officers wait 24-72 hours before giving a compelled statement, so that memory will be more "accurate, reliable and complete," also giving the officer time to get their nutrition and hygiene in order. And civilians get this treatment... when?
The June issue carries an article by Duane Wolfe of "The Warrior's Path" cautioning against jumping to conclusions about officer shootings, which can lead to ruined careers, broken lives or even suicide. Referring specifically to a case in St. Paul, Wolfe notes that people who watched video of that incident are automatically biased because the camera puts the entire scene in focus, whereas the human eye only focuses on one thing at a time--an idea he got from the FSRC. Just clicking on a link that says "officer involved shooting" means you know how the scenario will end, while the cop did not know going in. At the end of the piece, Wolfe exclaims "we have shown how bias plays a part in our rush to judgment," though in reality no such proof is offered.
In July's Rap Sheet, "Cop Gumbo" and Val Van Brocken offer criticism of those who want officers to shoot to wound, rather than to kill. Noting a "cluster effect" of shootings in Anchorage, Alaska (an effect we've noted before in the PPR), in which three shootings happened within a few months, the article focuses on one: the death of a Polynesian man who was swinging a broom at a cop. Rather than examine whether the potential for injury or death warranted the use of deadly force, the authors instead disparage community members who came to a public forum asking why the cops didn't shoot to wound. They note that there has been a Community Police Relations Task Force in Anchorage since 1981, yet none of the Task Force members explained the police position that you must shoot to "stop the threat." Again invoking the FSRC, the authors speak of the science of shooting to stop the threat and the "dangerous wrongheadedness of shooting to wound or disarm."
They then posit that most people when asked if they were attacked by a bear would better understand the officers' position: "Nobody wants to have to kill the bear (outside of hunting season)." In a true show of chutzpah (or maybe ignorance) they quote civil rights leader John Lewis, who worked with Martin Luther King on non-violent change in this country, asking "if not us then who, if not now then when?"
Cathy and Kevin Keaney warn officers about "potential exposures from dismantling transient camps" in the June Rap Sheet. "Portland has many transient residents who are homeless, mentally ill and/or illegal drug users," they note, urging the Bureau to provide protective equipment against "needles, urine bottles to make methamphetamine [???], trash and other sordid items." After warning how needles can lead to contracting Hepatitis or HIV, they put as an afterthought that the "risk is extremely low." They also warn against MRSA (staph infections), typhus, and lice that can come off of crack pipes, clothes, bedding or a person. While the risks are real (if minor), the way the article is written creates unnecessary fear of people living on the street. Their final thought? If you do get sick, file a claim.
Gene Warner of the Buffalo News explains that officers do not like to go on car chases, but are reluctant to prohibit them outright since, as an anonymous officer tells him, "nobody would stop" (July Rap Sheet). His article indicates that stops are the second most dangerous action officers perceive behind domestic violence calls. The article was written after the death of a High School Senior who drove away from the cops at over 100 MPH simply because he didn't have a license plate; the young man was killed in a crash 1.4 miles into the chase.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.