People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Department of Justice Settlement Creaks Forward;
Much has happened around the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Settlement Agreement with the City to address the findings that Portland Police use excessive force against people, especially those in mental health crisis.
The Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB), tasked with "independently" assessing implementation of the Agreement, met six times between May and August. The group, which initially had 15 voting members, 5 police advisors and 5 alternates, has now lost five of its original members, leaving only one person to fill an empty spot should another resign. The Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL), Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum of Chicago, released the first quarterly report on the Agreement in May, which in short says there has been some progress but there is a lot more work to do. After the resignation of Justice Paul DeMuniz (PPR #65), the City found a respected replacement in Portland activist Kathleen Saadat to fill the community liaison role for the Chicago team hired to oversee compliance with the Agreement. Meanwhile, the City's appeal of the case effectively ended on July 30 when Judge Michael Simon entered an amended order changing the annual "hearings" (which would have allowed evidence to be presented) to "status conferences" (discussions and Q&A only).
Following complaints that COAB was never given the tools needed to do their work, many of their meetings focused on training. On May 14, they received a "Settlement Agreement 101" talk from the COCL, the DOJ, the City, and (briefly) the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, which sits at the table as an "enhanced amicus" (friend of the court) in the case. The June 25 meeting was mostly taken up by the Bureau's Training Division explaining how the police are organized and what their training entails. July 9 included discussions and votes (more here) but also presentations from the "Independent" Police Review Division on the complaint system and from the City Attorney on the ethics and duties of being "public officials," as the community members on COAB now are considered.
This discussion was prompted by an activist who wanted to donate books on police accountability to COAB members, but was prohibited when the City Attorney called them inappropriate gifts under ethics rules. Since the COAB can't do anything but comment and recommend, it is not clear how their role resembles a City employee or Council member.
The May 28 meeting was a community forum on the COCL's quarterly report. A number of COAB members expressed concerns about the document, including how it warned against "pressure from outside groups to pursue an activist approach to police reform, versus a collaborative partnership model." During public comment (and in a written response), Portland Copwatch pointed out "nothing in the Agreement requires the COAB to 'collaborate' with the Bureau, nor to go to the Citizens Academy or on ride-alongs. The essential problem is not that the public doesn't understand what the police face on a daily basis, but that the police do not put themselves often enough into the shoes of community members." We also noted "asking the community to 'collaborate' with the Bureau is like asking an abused spouse to collaborate with her/his abuser."
On June 11, the COAB spent considerable time going through dozens of proposed recommendations to the COCL's report and voting to adopt more than 20. Many of the ideas ended up in the final report, released in June, and many reflected PCW's comments-- including the idea of focusing more on the importance of the police using less force, the key element of the Agreement. However, the report still includes a number of recommendations made by Rosenbaum that never got discussed by the COAB, including his call for the PPB to obtain body cameras, and a few references to community policing-type programs he has co-authored.
It's somewhat amusing how Rosenbaum and his team partner Amy Watson cite their own work, but refuse to put in names of people they interviewed to generate the report. This "anonymous syndrome" also plagued Portland's annual reviews of deadly force incidents for years until the Auditor agreed to let the consultants use the names of civilians and officers involved. The section on policy review, for instance, talks about how the "same person" is involved in all the steps of preparing and publishing new Directives, but doesn't identify that person. It doesn't even name the Chief of Police, even though everyone knows who he is.
The report was also the first place community members learned the COCL's office moved again, from its second home at the Bureau's Traffic Division (also PPR #65) to downtown Portland at the Office of Equity and Human Rights. Though the report originally stated the COCL would not have regular office hours, the revised version indicates they will. This step is important, not only because Justice DeMuniz was pretty assertive about getting out to meet community members, but also because the input the COCL recommended--the comment time at COAB meetings-- is limited to 5- 8 people speaking for 2-3 minutes each.
What else has the COAB done?
--The debate over who should conduct community surveys on how the police are viewed was resolved. On June 10, City Council accepted COAB's proposal to reject Portland State University's perceived biased pollsters (PPR #65) and instead hire the firm Davis, Hibbets, Midgehall;
--On July 9, they voted to amend their bylaws to allow adding more subcommittees;
--Also on July 9, COAB voted to adopt a strategy for the Community Engagement and Outreach plan.
Though Jimi Johnson, of the Community Engagement & Outreach Plan Subcommittee (CEOPS), read the survey contract proposal to the COAB (and Council), these last two items were read into the record by Saadat and staffer Amy Ruiz. In August, bucking this trend, Data Systems, Use of Force, and Compliance Subcommittee (DSUFCS) co-chair Tom Steenson read proposals to (a) create a new Accountability subcommittee (adopted unanimously) and (b) recommend changes to PPB's Force policies. Those changes include removing the 48 hour waiting period to interview officers after shootings. Despite filibustering by Portland Police Association (PPA) attorney Anil Karia, the recommenda-tions passed 12-2.
In July, DSUFCS discussed their experiences at the "Citizens Academy," with most members expressing how their perspectives were changed by participating in a scenario where a gun was involved. Steenson, on principle, would not participate in the hands-on training and remained objective, though advisory Officer Paul Meyer kept needling him as an outcast for making that decision. COAB member Sharon Maxwell said she was unable to pull the trigger when the scenario called for it. Her experience should have tempered the DCUFCS' discussion after PPA President Daryl Turner presented his rationale to keep the 48-hour rule in place. Revealing he'd been involved in a shooting in 1995 (article), Turner expressed how it was the most traumatic experience of his life. When COCL/COAB members expressed compassion for his "having to" take a human life, Turner did not correct them to clarify that his single bullet did not hit the suspect.
Because the Agreement is so far-reaching, changes continue to be made with little notice or discussion. On June 17, the Bureau asked for and got $1.8 million from City Council to upgrade their Tasers from the X26 model to the newest version. Taser International stands to make a fortune because they discontinued the old model, yet the new ones use the same cartridges, so PCW wondered why they had to replace all the electro-shock weapons at once. Training Captain Brian Parman said it would be easier to train all the officers on the same weapon-- and nobody on Council asked whether that means every officer carries the same gun (they don't).
Meanwhile, reports keep getting generated about the Bureau's Use of Force (still disproportionately against African Americans), Directives come up for review, and the DOJ makes presentations to other groups (including the Citizen Review Committee--article here). Both PCW and the AMA Coalition encourage more community members to attend and observe the COAB's full and subcom-mittee meetings as their recommendations may affect us all.
After Joshua Robinson resigned from COAB's alternates pool in April, Kristi Jamison resigned from the Portland Commission on Disabilities, thus had to give up her COAB seat. Cory Murphy resigned at the June 25 meeting and Vanessa Gonzalez was removed for lack of attendance. Stepping up into the empty seats were powerhouse Portland attorney Tom Steenson, and Black Lives Matter activist Laquida Landford. In August, Human Rights Commissioner Emanuel Price resigned, replaced by Se-ah-dom Edmo.
The other two current COAB committees are: the Executive Committee and the Mental Health Crisis Response Subcommittee (MHCRS).
Oregon US Attorney Amanda Marshall, who took a leave of absence after allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior arose (PPR #65), resigned effective May 15. Bill Williams is now acting US Attorney and oversees the DOJ Agreement locally.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.