People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Public Forum on Profiling Brings Stories of Police Misconduct as
State Reveals Racist Spying
As part of the effort to implement HB 2002, Oregon's new law banning police profiling (PPR #66), Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and members of a special task force held a forum in Portland, bringing out a diversity of voices telling stories of mistreatment by police. Two weeks later, news broke that Rosenblum's office was tracking Oregonians using the Twitter hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, including the Director of her own Civil Rights Division-- in apparent violation of Oregon law-- and falsely associating support for African American justice with criminality. In Portland, the Community/Police Relations Committee (CPRC) only met once in the fall, rehashing old ideas, and lost most of its civilian membership. Meanwhile, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) continues to put out data on traffic and pedestrian stops showing African Americans are stopped more frequently than their representation in the population.
The Law Enforcement Profiling Working Group was established to advise the State on how to implement HB 2002, and includes representatives from Center for Intercultural Organizing, Oregon's ACLU, Portland's "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), and others including a few law enforcement personnel. The October 27 listening session in Portland attracted roughly 100 people, and testimony ranged from African American men talking about police in outlying counties profiling them to horrifying mistreatment of transgender men and women, mostly by the PPB. Several homeless people talked about PPB harassment based on their housing status, something prohibited by the new law. Portland Copwatch testified to the weakness of the bill's language, which prohibits police targeting people "solely" based on noticeable characteristics (but should address if the cops do so "inappropriately"), and asks the agency collecting complaints statewide to turn them over to the police (but should allow filing with civilian investigators). The agency collecting complaints is the Portland State University-housed Law Enforcement Contacts Policy and Data Review Committee (LECC); they are accepting complaints at: pdx.edu/cjpri/profiling- complaints.
In December, the PPB updated its Directive on Profiling, so it now mirrors the state language about "solely" relying on personal characteristics.
Poking a hole in the balloon of optimism generated by the bill, the revelation that the Oregon Department of Justice was spying on, among others, Civil Rights Division Director Erious Johnson, came as a shocking insult to African Americans, activists, and the Oregonian, which expressed outrage in a November 14 editorial. A deputy AG in Rosenblum's office told her that investigator James Williams was using a computer program in Oregon's "Fusion Center" to track people (Willamette Week, November 18). Rosenblum said "they were looking for... potential threats to police" (Oregonian, November 11). Williams is currently on leave and under investigation. However, as PCW knows, since our organization has been spied on at least twice by the PPB (PPR #19), the state statute prohibiting law enforcement from "collecting or maintaining information about... political, religious or social associations" with no suspicion of criminal conduct (ORS 181.575) does not describe any criminal penalties. A collection of community groups led by the Urban League (whose Director, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, is married to Erious Johnson) sent a letter to Rosenblum concerned the "threat assessment" being conducted will "create a chilling effect on social justice advocates." Rosenblum promised to get to the bottom of the issue, yet hired a law firm which doesn't specialize in civil rights law, leaving many in the community worried that justice will be derailed.
CPRC's only recent meeting, held in September, included a long discussion led by the Training Division on "respectful policing," which CPRC member Lt. Larry Graham insists on calling "customer service." The Bureau claims that "respectful policing" is a part of all training and thus CPRC's proposal to conduct a special training is unnecessary. They are mistaken. Police past practices and citizen complaints are evidence of the need for training in Bias-Free policing (as is done in Seattle) as well as compliance with HB 2002. In addition, rudeness continues to be the #1 complaint filed with IPR (article here), so either the police are lying or they are simply doing a lousy job.
CPRC also talked about requesting the Bureau collect stop data on "mere conversations" along with its pedestrian and traffic data. However, it seems the police have a different idea of what "mere conversation " means than community members. Considering that he is still showing signs of bias when it comes to individual officer accountability (see PPR #56 and article in this issue), it's unsettling that Graham is the person with the strongest and most reasonable ideas at the Committee meetings. Part of the reason may be that there were only three of five Human Rights Commissioners left on CPRC (and one more, Chair Sam Sachs, has since resigned), and only two of five "at large" community members (Antonio Chimuku and Patricia Ford). Most of the officers, including Assistant Chief Mike Crebs, have also stopped attending regularly.
As noted previously, CPRC has a crucial role in the US Department of Justice Settlement Agreement with the City. They are supposed to track both implementation of the 2009 Plan to Address Racial Profiling and profiling data. Though such data are now published quarterly, the CPRC's lack of interest and their intermittent meeting schedule have left these reports out of the public eye. A quick look at the 2nd and 3rd Quarter data shows that African Americans continue to be stopped disproportionately, making up an average of 12% of pedestrian and 13% of traffic stops. The traffic division itself seems to stop people at a less unreasonable rate (9% of stops African American) but the Patrol officers in North Precinct skew the numbers with their biased policing (24% and 32% African American in Q2 and Q3, respectively). The reports are also supposed to carry data on people with mental health issues, but the Q3 report states traffic data on this point were not included because of "technology issues." Published data show police report far more often not knowing if there is a mental health issue (13-24% of the time) than if there is such an issue (0.5-0.9%). Also, despite requests made to the Bureau at CPRC's July meeting, data on searches and the Gang Enforcement Team are not being included in these reports.
The issue of racial profiling also came up in an October 30 Street Roots article called "Dear White Portland," in which African American youth described police conducting "sweeps" in their neighborhood: "They come through and they search only black kids for weapons... they say it's a mandatory search they can do this time of year and they're looking for guns." One youth says he tried to refuse a search but the officer (wrongly) told him he could not refuse because he was a juvenile. Another describes being fearful of a violent attack being planned against a friend, but thought "If I call the cops, they're going to come kill him and the person that's coming to get him."
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.