People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Rapping Back: Local Laments Lack Logic; National News Needles
Portland Police Association (PPA) President Daryl Turner's "President's Message" no longer seems to be a regular feature on the "Rap Sheet" website. Instead, his office posts weekly (or more frequent) information for the rank-and-file on their Association's webpage at ppavigil.com. Though these posts aren't technically part of the Rap Sheet, we will continue to address them in this column. [More PPA tomfoolery: Turner and the Tasered Teen (article) / Turner and the IPR (article).]
His February 6 post about revisiting police policies states that such a review should not lead to the "knee jerk reaction [of] reinventing the wheel as opposed to explaining how it's made." It's OK to meet the community's needs, says Turner, but more important to explain "why we do what we do on a daily basis." In other words, you just don't understand why we have to keep using violence against vulnerable communities, so stop trying to change us. Ignoring how the Bureau and the PPA frequently spin stories to degrade victims of police violence, Turner says that after major incidents there is a lack of information, "and those with an agenda capitalize by disseminating false information." He challenges the City, the Bureau and the community to hold monthly scenario trainings including city and community leaders where the police can critique the results. (See "Black Panther" subhead, below.)
On March 12, Turner wrote about changes that have taken place in the 24 years he's been a cop. He says they were all "mandated either by the police commissioner, the chief, the USDOJ, or those who call themselves community leaders." Referring obliquely to the new Community Oversight Advisory Board (article) he adds: "There are more acronyms, committees, forums and workgroups involved in the decision making process of these changes than most of us can name." But, Turner complains, these groups are never made up of PPB officers picked by other officers. He thinks the leaders are afraid of the officers' experience and knowledge (rather than their stubbornness to accept change and their self-interests overriding community concerns). Turner says the leaders should know how the changes "have impaired our ability to effectively do our jobs." The decisions should come from "a group of cops chosen by their peers; allowed to speak freely with no agenda but to make the PPB the best organization it can be." If not, the City will face low morale.
Turner already said on February 20 that such low morale exists, due to low staffing numbers and the burdens of caseloads, a new report writing system, more calls and fewer resources. He thinks more police are needed for the Gang Enforcement Team because of an uptick in shootings (as if repression is the answer to marginalization). Despite his grumbling, Turner says Portland is "one of the safest, most livable, tourist friendly cities in the nation!" It's not clear why being tourist friendly is the police's job. In all this rhetoric, Turner says his most important issue is the safety of both the officers and "the communities we serve," which is good so long as he doesn't mean that there are some communities the PPA does not serve.
The PPA apparently did not post any articles to the Rap Sheet site in December or January, due to their moving from NW Portland to their new digs at 1868 N Lombard. Ironically, this puts them half a block away from the memorial site for Dickie Dow, a developmentally disabled 37 year old man who was beaten to death by the cops in October 1998 (PPRs #16 & 25). The only local articles that appeared in Feb-March were about hiring for Portland Patrol Inc (private security made up of retired/former PPB), an obituary for a 102 year old man who was an officer from 1938-1973, and notification that the National Association of Police Officers had accepted Turner's nomination and awarded Officer John Romero an honorable mention, presumably for shooting Kelly Swoboda to death last March (PPR #62).
Hidden Gem #1: Racism, Double Standards in Beantown. In an article about a Boston officer shooting and killing a man who allegedly stabbed at him with a wooden stake quotes a witness saying "I really hope this doesn't cause a problem because it was a black man and a white cop." The witness, a white woman, added, "No one goes around waving a stick." (Rap Sheet March 2015/Boston Herald February 28).
A PoliceOne.com article posted in February related the story of Houston Black Panther Party member Quanell X at a police "shoot/don't shoot" scenario training. The article refers to Quanell as an "anti-police protest leader," as usual conflating being against police violence with being anti- police. It says Quanell left the training with a "deeper understanding of how quickly a situation can turn deadly." In the scenario, a man with an infant lunges forward with a knife. Quanell didn't see the knife but "would have used force to stop him... it could have [been] a lollipop, but you don't know when it's happening so fast." Quanell plans to call for compliance with cops but remain critical of some incidents. Portlanad Copwatch has addressed this challenge before: A person stuck in a driving simulator to drive a big truck will similarly fail the test when a car swerves at them or a tire blows out, but with repeat training the sense of being unable to make the right decision will go away. The police must stop spreading propaganda to defend being an occupying force in our communities.
Hidden Gem #2: Cop Back Pains from Too Many Weapons. In March, the Rap Sheet reposted an article from PoliceOne about joint, back and shoulder pains common to officers, as a result of their "duty belts" and bullet-proof armor. "Chasing suspects, wrestling aggressors and scaling walls are both [sic] common in law enforcement and common causes of back and shoulder pain." Officers need to look for ways to offset the weight of their vests and "gun belts," says author Lorain Burger- - and by calling them "duty belts/gun belts" not "tool belts" Burger gives a boost to our argument that guns, Tasers, batons and pepper spray are not tools.
An article in the February Rap Sheet focusing on body cameras ignores community concerns about civil liberties/police spying, but highlights reasons officers should fear the technology. Author David Blake has a certificate in "Force Science," meaning he learned from the people in Mankato, MN who work to excuse acts of police misconduct with pseudo-scientific principles (PPR #41, e.g.). His analysis boils down to the argument that cameras can see more than people, but can't record emotions or process information in the same way. Studies show positive results, he says, but understanding the difference between humans and cameras is important or cities will end up with "incorrect disciplinary actions, increased liability and incarceration."
Blake goes into technical terms, peppered with percentages and time lengths. He says stress levels narrow vision and impede memory, while cameras capture everything, often in high definition-- though the Graham vs. Connor court decision says officers are not to be judged in 20/20 hindsight. Blake worries that officers "will fight an uphill battle against those who are uninformed."
He puts down those who think body cams "will solve the statistically unsupported problem of common use of excessive force in policing." It is not that excessive force is "common" in that the majority of police actions include excessive force (force is used in less than 3% of arrests in Portland), but rather that too often when officers use force, that force is more than the minimum allowed to accomplish a "legitimate" police action.
Blake recommends: 1) education in science; 2) testing officers in scenarios and comparing their memory to video footage, and 3) letting officers watch videos before writing their reports-- which undermines the "humans are superior in determining what facts are important" argument.
Hidden Gem #3: Telling It Like It Is in 21st Century America. A March article originally from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about hiring more police officers using federal funds quotes Police Chief Cameron McLay on the shift of funding from community police officers after 9/11: "Instead of seeing ourselves as members of the community protecting the community, we now see ourselves as extensions of the government, looking for terrorists among our citizens."
Portland's "Service Coordination Team" has for years targeted people for repeat arrests, usually for drug crimes, threatening them with felony jail time if they don't check into rehab. Similar programs in California are having less success after the passage of Proposition 47, which dropped some drug possession and theft charges to misdemeanors. The gist of the February 26 LA Times article (in March's Rap Sheet) is that cops need the threat of jail to get people to opt for treatment. However, the article also quotes Project 180 Director Emily Bell that jail did not work for many addicts, but it took "an internal resolve [that] the cycle had to stop." Former cop Thomas Hoffman, who worked on Prop 47, echoes this, saying arrests are just a "speed bump" for addicts. Though recovering addict Adam Arnold claims the felony arrest that brought him to Project 180 helped him, the article notes Arnold "became so miserable that he began calling rehab programs, but all were full. It took getting arrested again to end up at Project 180." So when he wanted treatment he could not get it, but was able to get in later through police intervention. The article does not address that with only 27 of 62 of the Project's slots full, those who decide on their own to seek treatment don't have to face a long criminal record to get help.
The Portland Police Association does not set policy. However, some PPA leadership, officers, and guest authors express negative attitudes toward citizens and civilian oversight in their newsletter, so we worry these ideas may spread through the rank-and-file.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.