People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
RAPPING BACK #64
Portland Police Association (PPA) President Daryl Turner's Rap Sheet column in late August was titled "Where the work is really done." The gist of the piece was to praise the "union" and put down comments from Mayor Charlie Hales and Chief Mike Reese that their policies around community policing led to a decline in both the use of force and complaints. Turner says Reese ignored the "men and women who have built this organization -- the rank and file." Turner talks about how he grew up in Newark and saw riots after the police beat an African American cabbie. The National Guard came in armored vehicles and the city was lit on fire. He slept in a bathtub to avoid gunfire--the same story that PPB psychologist Dr. David Corey told about growing up in San Diego (PPR #52). Turner feels now is the time for the Bureau to move forward after "overcoming the obstacles of those whose agenda is to poison the relationship between the PPB and the community they serve with misinformation, baseless conspiracy theories and falsehoods." (Interestingly, these are criticisms that former officer Deanna Wesson Mitchell used about Portland Copwatch [PCW] as we sought to meet with Mayor Hales-- article here).
As we examine the next few statements, imagine a slide presentation showing the 1981 "possum incident" where officers threw dead animals on the porch of a black-owned business, unarmed African American motorist Kendra James' shooting death in 2003, African American unarmed and suicidal Aaron Campbell being shot in the back in 2010, and the 12 year old (African American) girl who was hit at close range with a "beanbag" gun leading to the PPA's march on City Hall complaining about Officer Humphreys' suspension. (Cue slide show.) Turner says the rank and file "built trust with the community, promoted diversity and unity long before Charlie Hales was Mayor." He adds that officers have "always" responded to community needs "regardless of race, creed, color, religious beliefs, disability or sexual orientation" (Here we add slides of Dickie Dow, a man with developmental disabilities, beaten to death , José Mejía Poot, a Mexican day laborer shot in a psychiatric hostpital , James Chasse, a man with schizophrenia also beaten to death , Mohammed Mohamud--a teen Muslim from Somalia whose FBI sting was accomplished with PPB help  and numerous gay men severely beaten by police in Laurelhurst Park .) The final score: History 1, Portland Police 0.
Most of the articles in the September and October Rap Sheets had one thing in common: they were directly or indirectly linked to the public outcry after the shooting of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO in early August.
The most direct reference was an October article which outlined the St. Louis police "union" effort to show politicians how stressful it is to be a cop. The "police officer for a day" event was planned specifically after the incidents in Ferguson and Shaw (a neighborhood where an off duty St. Louis Police officer shot and killed an 18 year old African American man in early October). 60 people were invited but only 18 showed up. An officer playing a suspect shot State Representative Mike Leara with blanks after the Representative-as-cop did two searches, to prove it was not thorough enough. "Even though this is pretend, it was really scary and frightening," said Leara. Alderman Jeffrey Boyd didn't see drugs going into the mouth of one "suspect" during his role-play. While he originally wondered why officers don't just shoot suspects in the leg, Boyd notes he learned "They can be high or something and still walking."
Explaining the motivation for the event, Jeff Roorda of the St. Louis Police Officers Association used the unfortunate metaphor "things aren't as black and white as they are on TV."
Another October piece focused on the phenomenon of so-called "looming"-- perception of size, distance and rate of closure of a threat. Asking about how this affected, for example, the Ferguson incident, Doug Wylie of Police.com talked to the Force Science Institute's Bill Lewinski (author of the "Superman theory" that so many suspects are shot in the back because they turn before the officer's bullet hits them). Looming is affected by fatigue, fear, ability and more, including how big the "threat" looks in the officer's field of view. Lewinski said it can be true for "an attacker on foot such as in Ferguson," which illustrates the bias of both the article and Lewinski, since there's no concrete evidence Michael Brown was attacking Officer Darrell Wilson when he was shot.
As if to excuse the shooting while the grand jury was still deliberating, the piece identifies five factors of "looming": (1) Speed-- in which perception may not match the evidence, as someone "charging at an officer" raises cop fear. (2) Range--a basketball moving from 4 feet to 2 feet away seems faster than one going from 160 to 158 feet. (3) Size-- a small person vs. a linebacker, say 6'4" and 240 pounds (about Michael Brown's height and weight) versus a smaller cop. (4) Location-- looming can be amplified by being in a confined space like a vehicle; Wylie notes the Brown incident started in the police car but ended in the street. (5) Fatigue-- fighting is "dirty and ugly [and] tiring as all hell," says Wylie. This is an odd element to include since Brown was shot less than two minutes after being confronted. Wylie attributes Wilson's "fatigue" to an orbital blowout fracture to his eye socket allegedly from being punched by Brown-- a fact CNN reported was false on August 21. Wylie concludes, "Officer Darren Wilson was pinned in his vehicle and in fear for his life as they struggled for his gun." It's so nice that the PPA reprinted this article of "facts" before the grand jury transcripts were released!
Brown's shooting was also mentioned in an October article by Matt Steihm defending officers' use of force, though he admits officers have abused their authority in the past. He lists incidents of concern "from Kent State to Rodney King and the Brown incident in Missouri." However, he trots out the cliché that force is used in a fraction of incidents. Then he notes the Rodney King case judge said 5 baton strikes were excessive... meaning the other 50-55 were not.
Steihm points to research by, yes, "Force Science," among others, which address the human factors of force. Steihm offers advice on how to change public perception: work with the community, the media and civic leaders and have them walk in cops' shoes. He suggests updates to training after incidents that cause concern, so as not to "make the officer a spectacle or political fall guy." He also says to support cops doing the right thing, but to "conduct fair internal investigations, provide discipline and corrective action when appropriate."
Yet another October piece focuses on Attorney General Eric Holder's effort to form a national police tactics commission based on a 1965 group created by President Johnson. Lance Eldridge of "All Law Enforcement is Local" predicts that in five years, it will be hard to be an officer because of "questions swirling around the role of law enforcement in a free society, emerging technologies, and what critics allege is the indiscriminate use of inappropriate or deadly force." The commission will focus on threats, challenges, homeland security and "encounters with the mentally ill [sic]." Eldridge points to tens of thousands of contacts without force that don't make the media, leading to the perception of cops using excessive force and being "overly 'militarized.'" That also could be based on incidents where officers use overwhelming force and military gear, as came to light after Ferguson police cracked down on protests with light tanks and rubber bullets.
Eldridge complains that police use of force is under scrutiny, including that Taser use is seen by some (including PCW) as torture. Ignoring what statistics could prove, he says "Critics maintain that police use deadly force disproportionately against minorities and those at the bottom of the social order." And here he obliquely references Ferguson, saying how one incident can go national and have "political repercussions."
In conclusion, Eldridge warns Holder's commission will only lengthen the debate, leading to the Department of Justice (DOJ) forcing changes on cities through consent decrees. He argues only ordinary cops who "are already performing their duties in a highly charged political atmosphere can ensure the police profession remains effective and accountable."
Eldridge addresses problems arising with new police technology, such as license plate readers, cop cams (see article), access to Facebook and Google Glass, "predictive policing," and gathering cell phone data, all of which lead to privacy concerns. He says when internet companies take measures to protect people's privacy, police are upset because it hurts their ability to protect the community.
Finally, an article by Ed Flosi of San Jose's Police Department focuses on creating well written use of force reports, not Ferguson (September Rap Sheet). Flosi's bottom line: good reports take more time up front but save trouble later. As with the other authors, he says force is rare. He cites DOJ statistics: less than 1/2 of 1% of 44 million annual police contacts involve force. In 99.58% of those cases, Flosi says, it's justified and reasonable. That means in about 220,000 force incidents, there are 924 unjustified uses of force. That's equivalent to more than one per month in each of the 50 states. Yet, Flosi says, "we seem to be losing a disproportionate amount of civil lawsuits."
Flosi includes a list of what should (and should not) be in a report, containing tidbits we hope the Portland Police will take to heart: details of what indicated a suspect was resisting, not "canned phrases like 'fighting stance'"; what other officers did without speculation why they did it; and when describing the "totality of the circumstances," not using that legal standard as a "snappy catchphrase." Showing bias, he urges cops to write how "suspect action drives officer response-- this is a theme that is true and should be reflected in the report." What about incidents where that was not the case? Shouldn't the message be to tell the truth? In the end, he says if a short movie were made based on an officer's force report, the officer should agree with the movie's accuracy. If the civilian who was beaten, tasered or shot also agreed, then it might be a truly accurate portrayal.
A piece in the October Rap Sheet by Duane Wolfe of the Warrior's Path puts a new spin on the caution not to expect police to be able to, say, shoot a gun out of someone's hand. He says that cops have perception of themselves based on TV and movies-- which is a set up for failure. Some officers use words or tactics they see in media, Wolfe says. In fiction, the average cop is "divorced, cynical, [and has] problems with addiction of [sic] alcohol or drugs, anger management issues." Wolfe claims Dr. Alexis Artwohl (formerly of Portland) exposed the myths by showing divorce, addiction and suicide rates are the same or lower than the general population (a debunking we debunked in PPR #61).
Wolfe tells cops not to solve their problems with drugs and booze-- "if you need help, go get it from a professional." He bluntly writes: "'I'm a cop, I don't need anyone's help'- Bullshit." Since cops offer help to other people all day, they should acknowledge their own problems and ask for help to fix it. And the "good guy" doesn't always win like in the movies: "This ain't Hollywood and your life isn't a script."
Find the Rap Sheet at: www.pparapsheet.org .
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.