People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Portland Police Create "Stop and Frisk Lite" Program, Disrupt Hip Hop Show, and Reveal More Skewed Stop/Search Data In the past few months, the issue of racial profiling by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has been back in the headlines. In December, the PPB announced a new "stop and chat" program that appears to encourage pat-downs of African Americans. In March, they interrupted a hip-hop show in Southeast, prompting artists to denounce ongoing harassment and triggering a review of Bureau policy. Although the issue was sidelined by the US Department of Justice (DOJ)'s "pattern and practice" investigation on excessive force (p. 1), perhaps coincidentally, hours after the Fairness Hearing on the DOJ Agreement ended, the PPB released its final report on 2011 traffic and pedestrian stop data, which shows profiling getting worse (as in the draft report--PPR #60). Meanwhile, the Bureau is seeking to hire an equity coordinator to complete the institutional racism training designed by the Community/ Police Relations Committee (CPRC).
While city officials deny the implications, the Portland Tribune reported on officers engaging in the new "stop and talk" program, getting out of their cars to interact with the community in 15 minute blocks (December 19). The article quotes Officer Brian Dale of the Gang Enforcement Team, who requested three young people get out of a car and submit to a "stop-and-pat down... His intent was to talk to the youths and he couldn't comfortably do that until he knew they weren't armed." Dale shows disdain for Constitutional rights by berating "white hipsters [who] frequently tell black guys 'You don't have to talk to the cops.'" And even though the DOJ's Letter of Findings suggested the Bureau track every community contact including "mere conversations," the City indicates they are not planning to track who is being "stopped and patted down." The program officially rolled out in mid-March, with Assistant Chief Larry O'Dea, who sits on CPRC, referring to it as "relationship building," though the Bureau calls it the Neighborhood Involvement Locations (NILoc) community engagement initiative (see p. 9).
Police presence at hip hop shows is nothing new, but a March 1 event at the Blue Monk nightclub became a flashpoint when officers, using fire code capacity as an excuse, began limiting entrance. Their interest had been stirred when the Gang Enforcement Team (GET) claimed the first performer, Mikey Vegaz, had gang ties. No incidents occurred during his opening set. Vegaz asked, "Do I have ties to gangs because I was born and raised in Northeast Portland? Are they saying because I'm black I have gang ties?" (Oregonlive, March 3). The night's final performer, Illmaculate, refused to go on stage due to the massive police presence. He posted on Twitter: "I will not perform in this city as long as the blatant targeting of black culture and minorities congregating is acceptable common practice."
The usually sluggish "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR) quickly announced a review of the Bureau's policies around hip hop shows. Too bad when Director Constantin Severe announced the review at a meeting, he opined it could be "a city of Portland issue, or a Police Bureau issue." It's not a good sign to start a supposedly unbiased investigation perpared to blame society at large when it was the GET that provoked the Blue Monk incident.
The GET also came off as the biggest practitioners of bias-based policing in the stops data report. As noted previously, the overall picture painted by the 2011 numbers is that officers are searching African American drivers even more frequently than before-- now four times as often as white drivers, as opposed to twice as often-- and turning up less contraband (about 70% as much as whites). Because the report broke down the stops into "pro-active units," patrol, and the traffic division, there is a clearer picture that traffic officers only stop African Americans 7% of the time, about their ratio in the population (6%), while a whopping 38% of GET stops are of African Americans. That Gang stops are four and half times more likely pales compared to the search rate, which is just 1% for traffic units but 26.7% for the Gang Team. In the understatement of the year, the report says "The use of aggressive traffic enforcement as a tool to address gang violence may create racial disparities in stops and searches.''
None of these issues made it to the first four CPRC meetings of 2014. Though CPRC was created to continue the work of the 2007-08 Racial Profiling Committee (PPR #46), the stops report was handed out in February but not discussed. February and March were outreach meetings at the Miracles Club, which drew only a few more community members the second time after the first was poorly attended. The cops on CPRC heard an earful, including one woman who tells her 18 year old how to avoid being killed by police before sending him out to a dance.
CPRC promised a discussion about the confusing role of former member, and for-the-time-being- former Officer Deanna Wesson-Mitchell being hired as the Mayor's police liaison (PPR #61). However, when she showed up in January, the concerns expressed by member Sam Sachs were essentially shrugged off. (At that, he was mostly concerned about the process used to choose Wesson-Mitchell rather than the conflict of interest posed by an officer being in this position.)
Interestingly, though CPRC is part of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), they did not bring up the HRC's Roundtable community discussions, which led to the creation of a new HRC committee on police issues. Since CPRC's main focus has been on building relationships, another group is needed to examine human rights concerns around PPB policies and practices.
In February, A/C O'Dea asked CPRC to support a new civilian "equity" position at the Bureau. That new employee could continue work started by CPRC volunteers on institutional racism training, which has to be rolled out to some 900 line officers (after Sergeants and upper ranking officers were trained in 2012-13--PPRs #58 & 61). CPRC agreed to write a letter. When O'Dea asked PCW for support, our response was the Bureau should show its commitment to equity by using existing funds to hire this person, perhaps by closing down the Mounted Patrol.
Defending the actions of officers patting down young African American men, the Tribune's Peter Korn quoted an expert who claimed 90% of officer deaths are caused by guns. This is not true. The 2013 figure for officer deaths by gunfire was just 30% (LA Times, December 30).
The DOJ Agreement gave the City until December 31 to create a plan for collecting data on police encounters, including demographics. That deadline was not met.
The Center for Intercultural Organizing and Oregon Justice Resource Center are working on "intake sessions" to hear people's stories of being racially profiled. More information: email@example.com (OJRC) or 503-287-4117 (CIO).
• Two PPB Shootings Result
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.