People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Training Advisory Council: Visit from Chief & New Weapon Demonstration Sideline Force Data TAC Engaged in Important Discussions on Race; Copwatch Expresses Concern on New Lieutenant
The Bureau's Training Advisory Council (TAC) met in January and March and, as required under the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Settlement Agreement, received presentations on Use of Force data from the PPB. However, those presentations made up about 45 minutes of their combined four hours of meeting time, with the rest of the time spent on useful but perhaps over-long presentations of 40 minutes each on the Bureau's implicit bias training, a new "less lethal" weapon (including discussion during a break), and an introductory message / meet and greet with Chief Outlaw (see article: Outlaw's Outpost).
At the January meeting, a PPB analyst went over the third quarter (Q3) 2017 Force data, noting that the Bureau has begun requiring force reports on a number of new tactics including baton uses without strikes, "controlled" takedowns, hobbles, firearm discharges at animals, and vehicle ramming. Thus the raw number of reports nearly tripled. Lt. Craig Dobson, who oversees the reports, noted in the truncated discussion of the Q4 report in March that some of these newly reported uses of force include officers holding people down when being transported on an ambulance gurney or pushing someone away from an active crime scene. It's odd that these were never counted as uses of force in the past.
The Bureau keeps editing down the quarterly reports, so the formerly 40-page documents are under 10 pages. They plan to put raw data up for the public to sift through starting in May. While one TAC member asked for demographic data to be included as a comparison point-- African Americans continue to be the subjects of between 25 and 32% of all force-- that was not done in the Q4 report presented in March.* Moreover, the Q4 report wasn't posted as part of the TAC's agenda prior to the March meeting. The Inspector and the TAC did not raise the issue that 50% of those subjected to force in Q4 (and 43% in Q3) were listed as "transients." Lt. Dobson did say that about 70% of force used against people in mental health crisis were in the new categories of "control against resistance" and "resisted handcuffing," but left off that three such persons were subjected to strikes/kicks, two had firearms pointed at them, one was hit by a Taser and another had a less lethal weapon fired at them.
The analyst noted that because the PPB is collecting so many data points, it makes it harder to compare to other cities. TAC members urged the Bureau to include officer involved shootings ("the most important") and crowd control force data in quarterly reports, since they're currently only listed in the annual report. As of mid-April, the 2017 report had not been approved for release, so those data are still not available.
Another statistic the TAC did not discuss from the Q3 Force report: 29% (65 of 221) of people who were subjected to force were not taken into custody.
In March, Officer Gabe Hertzler showed off the Bureau's new "launcher" that fires a 40 MM (1.5 inch) foam projectile, passing around the foam ammunition and letting members handle the gun during a break. This less lethal system-- which TAC members pointed out does not mean they are non-lethal-- is referred to as an "impact munition" in general terms. Hertzler eventually mentioned that one advantage of the new system is that it cannot hold ammunition from a lethal firearm, vaguely referring to the incident where Officer Dane Reister loaded live shotgun rounds into his "beanbag" gun in 2011 and permanently injured William Monroe (PPR #54). The new weapon's size is a bit alarming, since the barrel is about three times larger than a handgun or rifle barrel. The 40 MM weapons are also used for crowd control, with green foam projectiles rather than blue ones. The green ammunition leaves a stain on a protestor's clothing, which officers then use to identify them later. It seems that a round capable of causing bruising (or, in theory, death if it strikes a person in the head) should not be used to "tag" people.
Also in March, the Training Division's new Lieutenant, Leo Besner, introduced himself to the TAC. PPR readers may recognize Besner's name: Portland Copwatch dubbed him the "Million Dollar Man" as various lawsuits around his use of force have cost the city more than that amount of money in settlements. The most egregious was the death of Raymond Gwerder in 2005 (PPR #37), but there was also his roughing up protestor Bill Ellis and teenager Maria- Janeth Rodriguez in 2003 (PPRs #34 and 36), and when Besner and two other officers roughed up three African American men, who were pulled forcibly from their car at gunpoint in 2007 (PPR #49). Since all of these cases are more than three years old, Besner is not prohibited from being in the Training Division by the terms of the DOJ Agreement. However, his presence is raising eyebrows in the community.
The discussion on the Bureau's implicit bias training was heartening, although it did bring into focus that there are no African American officers in the Training Division or members on the TAC. The Bureau offered to pay community members $50 to help give the training; PCW asked that they be sure to include people of color, people with mental illness, and people who have attended protests that were subjected to police violence. Then-Training Captain Bob Day is now a passionate advocate for officers soul searching on this important issue, saying he wished he'd had his "light bulb" moment much earlier in his 28 year career. Day said that during scenarios, staff will repeat things officers said that were inappropriate, which they don't realize they said under pressure. Day told the TAC "if officers are explicitly engaging in bias, we don't want them here." The PPB's original unlearning racism training was developed by the Community/Police Relations Committee of the Human Rights Commission, which stopped meeting in 2016. While TAC was asked to comment on the training plans, they do not seem to have been deeply involved in its development.
In January, at least three new members were introduced, and in March co-chair Sushannah Boston announced the other chair, Rio Rios, was resigning. City rules require new leadership to be voted in at the May meeting. At least two members (Sylvia Zingeser and McKay Fenske) have been on TAC since its inception in 2012.
Also in March, PCW member Dan Handelman pointed out that the Training Policy, which should be of great interest to the TAC, was put up for review by the PPB from February 15 to March 2-- in between the group's bi-monthly meetings (also see this issue's article PPB Policies: Repeat Postings Underscore Lack of Positive Changes, New Timeline Won't Improve Input). Given the amount of information they already are unable to cover, perhaps TAC should consider meeting more often.
During public comment in January, a community member said officers arrested a minister at his home for an earlier obscene gesture at a golf course, taking him to jail in his pajamas.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.