People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
On March 22, Portland City Council had a first reading of an ordinance to allow the Portland Police to spend $80,000 to acquire drones. Drones are specifically listed as something the police have to get Council approval to buy, following restrictions put in place in 2020 during the racial justice uprising. While the cops claim these will only be used for traffic scene reconstruction and critical incidents like hostage situations, Portland Copwatch testified about how these remote aircraft further militarize the police and could one day lead to armed drones that kill people. The Council and police snickered at our suggestion that the drones might one day be armed by saying "no, these drones aren't going to be armed." But they missed the point we were making... they're not armed YET.
The person in charge of this program is Sgt. James DeFrain, one of three officers who shot 32 times and killed Keaton Otis in May 2010; DeFrain fired 11 of those bullets (PPR #51). He assured Council they will not be using the drones for other activities such as surveillance of protests because his unit is so small and they can trust him. That's not a way to set up institutional guardrails.
Under a new city guideline about surveillance technologies, Smart City PDX gave this program a "medium risk" rating for possibly violating people's privacy rights, though their input was not sought at the hearing. The police used a full multimedia production to tout how great it is to use drones and indicated they've used ones from Gresham police and other agencies. One big selling point is how much quicker the freeway will open after a crash if police use drones. Fair enough, but is that the #1 priority, especially if a person is injured or killed in a crash?
On April 5, Council voted to accept the drones, with Commissioner Carmen Rubio acknowledging
community concerns and claiming the City's surveillance policy will help keep tabs on the cops.
We'll see. The Mayor pointed to the lack of public outcry as a reason the program was "not
controversial." The vote was 5-0.
A few years ago, the Portland Police were being paid overtime as part of "special duty" assignments
to provide security for the Apple Store downtown. Eventually the police stopped patrolling there,
maybe because their policy says it's not proper to use public employees to run security for a single
business, rather than something that benefits the whole community. Or, it was the Apple Store
putting up a fence during the 2020 racial justice uprising. Either way, in February, the Nike outlet
on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd asked for such off-duty cops to help with what they say was
such a persistent problem with shoplifting that they closed the store. While the store was set up as a
touchpoint for the Black community, Mayor Wheeler actually made the right decision and said PPB
officers would not be doing security. Unfortunately, the reasoning was mostly because of the
ongoing claim that the Bureau is short staffed, but the outcome is the same (Oregonian,
Larry Wenzel, a Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy who worked in the jails (rather than patrol),
resigned in February following his arrest for "strangulation, fourth degree assault, coercion,
menacing and harassment" against a woman whose identity was not made public. The then-law
enforcement officer was "heavily intoxicated... hit [the woman] in the face multiple times, then
got on top of her and put his hands on her neck, squeezing." Sounds like a charmer. Because
he pleaded guilty to strangulation and assault, the other charges were dropped and he was
sentenced to just 35 days in a Clackamas County Jail, along with two years of probation, drug and
domestic violence treatment, and an order to stay away from the woman without approval from
authorities (Oregonlive, March 9).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.