People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Department of Justice Turms From Promising Present to Fuzzy
During a June 14 forum, the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform posted a sign on stage reading "134 days without a COAB." This was a reference to the City allowing all of the terms to expire for members of the Community Oversight Advisory Board in late January (PPR #71), then failing to replace that body. On July 20, the Oregonian's website revealed the City's plans to scrap COAB and replace it with a Committee which will hold meetings that could only be open to the public once per quarter. It is supposed to focus on the Bureau's community outreach and address issues of "police use of force, officer interactions with people who suffer from mental illness, and handling of citizen complaints involving racial justice." But the City left off an important element of COAB's charge: the ability to independently assess the implementation of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Settlement Agreement, which orders the City to use less force and fix its training and policies. This ability was partially restored in revisions adopted on August 24. Meanwhile, in analyzing two reports from the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL), the Chicago consulting firm assessing the Agreement, Portland Copwatch (PCW) discovered the Bureau does not count force used at protest actions in their DOJ-mandated force data reports.
The Oregonian's report on the new COAB was based in part on court filings requested by federal Judge Michael Simon, who oversees the Agreement. After the City filed a challenge to Simon's request for an extra status conference (PPR #70), Simon cancelled that conference, then also the annual hearing originally set for October 2017. Because the case is still in mediation in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, it is not clear whether Simon can run the fall conference-- especially since the City asked that he be removed from the case. The filings reveal the City and DOJ discussed the future of COAB as part of the mediation meant to resolve the conference hearing issue, which is odd since the lack of a COAB was the reason Simon called the extra hearing. The AMA Coalition was not included in the mediation sessions until July 14, days before the status reports were filed.
The City made its plans public on July 28, giving the community six days to turn out for a hearing on August 3 about the new Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing (PCCEP), changes to the Settlement Agreement, and updates on the "48-hour rule" (article). The proposed PCCEP would have had just 5-9 members appointed by the Mayor-- while COAB had 15 members, five of whom were appointed by each City Council member and 10 by community advisory recommendations. Amendments from Commissioners Fritz and Eudaly bumped the Commission up to 9-11 members with all of Council weighing in on the appointments. However, having such an important body meet behind closed doors defeats the spirit of transparency. The Behavioral Health Unit Advisory Council (BHUAC), also created by the DOJ Agreement, already meets in private.
These developments, on top of the DOJ apparently signing off on the "new 48-hour rule" allowing officers more time before being interviewed and, for instance, ordering the Bureau to keep a troubling term ("excited delirium") in its force policy lead to a disturbing conclusion. Inviting in the DOJ was not over-riding the foxes guarding the henhouse, it was inviting in more foxes to help eat the hens. Though the City describes PCCEP as being able to "ensure community-engaged policing both during and beyond the pendency of the Settlement Agreement,'' it is not clear how unless the Committee is given some teeth. For what it's worth, the proposal requires the City to respond in a timely manner to PCCEP recommendations, something they did not do with COAB. After outcry at the hearing, a revised version, passed 5-0 by Council on August 24, asks PCCEP to meet publicly at least once per month. Council left other items such as specifying review of DOJ implementation "in the record," that is, spoken out loud but not changed by formal amendments.
In its Q3/Q4 2016 Outcomes Report, the COCL examined two years of trends in Use of Force and says the number of uses of force have gone down. However, as PCW noted in its analysis of the "Independent" Police Review (IPR) annual report (article), the Bureau doesn't consider force used against protestors to be force-- just "appropriate crowd control techniques." Precisely, Allyson Drozd was pepper-sprayed outside City Hall during the protests over the Police Association contract on October 12 last year (KOIN-TV, April 10 and PPR #70). However, the fourth quarter 2016 statistics on Force say only seven people were pepper sprayed in that time frame-- six were white males and one was a black male. So either this officer did not report his use of pepper spray or the Bureau does not consider this a use of Force.
The AMAC's June 14 forum was held for the community to comment on the COCL's Outcomes Report. The AMAC held a previous such forum on April 25 to help channel input on the COCL's separate Compliance Report. PCW member Dan Handelman, who sits on the steering committee of the AMAC, was on both panels, and used PCW's analysis to point out some issues.
From the compliance report:
--The brutal beating of Jason Cox in 2011, which resulted in a $562,000 judgment (PPR #64), led to only one of the three officers involved being found out of policy... and by the time the decision was made in December, that officer no longer worked for the Bureau.
--The BHUAC made recommendations which were adopted and responded to by the Bureau, while COAB never received meaningful feedback. The Report says their input was considered and included as "appropriate."
--The Bureau held meetings in its three precincts in summer 2016 on its Annual Report, even though that Report wasn't posted to the PPB website until October, and PCW never saw publicity for such meetings. (It was also supposed to be presented to City Council, but was not.)
From the Outcomes report:
--The COCL's biases against community members who actively speak out against government policies became more pronounced than ever, with at least five negative swipes at protestors, made from speculation. The most blatant comment comes in trying to explain an uptick in complaints to IPR: "Given the number of activists in Portland and the number of protests, it is possible that many of these complaints are coming from the same group of people who have filed multiple complaints over time." It also suggests people fear walking downtown because of protests, without considering people may fear being near demonstrations because of violence inflicted on those events by police.
--The COCL simultaneously encourages officers to get out of their cars to interact with the public while fixating on the idea that officers who don't make arrests or get complaints lodged against them are somehow "less productive."
--According to the report, Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team (ECIT) officers-- who have 40 more hours of mental health training than most officers' basic 40 hours-- use force at twice the rate of non-ECIT cops. Also, ECIT members are twice as likely to have subjects transported to the hospital-- but it's not clear whether this is for mental health treatment or due to the force used.
--There were 2237 complaints against 812 of 880 sworn officers from 2012-2016. Therefore only 68 officers had no complaints against them. Yet, one officer had a total of 18 complaints over the five years. According to the report, 35 officers, or 3.8% of the force, were linked to 43% of the Sustained complaints.
Additionally, a survey conducted in August 2016 of six "focus groups" to gauge perceptions of Portland police was released in April (PPR #71). PCW found some perspectives were skewed while others did not get highlighted, and several of the groups were not sufficiently diverse. DHM, the survey's authors, suggested examining the link between homelessness and crime based on comments made (mostly by housed people), ignoring that many of the interviewees (a) were just as concerned about finding housing/ shelter for houseless persons and (b) had concerns about police enforcing the law unequally. A person with mental health issues reported being picked up while suicidal, and the officers made fun of him for crying. DHM noted many people seemed to feel adding more police is not necessary, with one person saying once some officers get in a position of power, their actions are "not far from the violence of the people you're trying to be safe from."
In terms of diversity, in the groups from East and Central Precinct for persons with mental illness, there were no African Americans. The youth group had just two males and one African American. Since young men-- especially young black men-- are targeted by police, it's not surprising most of the youth reported positive experiences. It is not clear how the survey respondents were chosen. COAB had input into the focus groups before being suspended for two months last summer, but DHM makes no mention of COAB in the survey report. The appendix details responses including one person who called for disbanding the police, and another who called for disarming them.
In the final DOJ-related piece of news, in early June the City was poised to pay a consultant $300,000 to create a plan to "increase police transparency and accountability." Two problems: one, COAB (and now PCCEP) was supposed to craft the Bureau's Community Engagement plan; the other is that the envisioned five-year plan would have been under the guidance of Chief Mike Marshman while a national search to replace him was ongoing. After PCW raised concerns, the NAACP of Portland had the item pulled from the Council agenda.
The parties asked Judge Simon to hold the next status conference on November 16. PCW will keep
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.