People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Training Advisory Council Continues Debating Demographics,
Continuing a discussion from their November meeting (PPR #88), in March the Training Advisory Council (TAC) pushed the Bureau for answers about why so many Black people are subjected to force by Portland Police. Lt. Pete Helzer, who fairly explicitly stated at the prior meeting that Black people commit more crimes, presented again. He was much more nuanced, but continued to deflect from the possibility that there is bias involved. The March meeting also included discussions on surveying people who encounter police and the PPB's new Crowd Control training. When the TAC met in January, they heard a presentation about "Customer Service."
The Use of Force data provided by Helzer, the Force Inspector, showed that in the third and fourth quarters of 2022 28% and 26% of people who were subjected to force in Portland, which has a 6% Black population, were Black. This is up from the previous three quarters where the percentage had gone down to 19-22%. In response to the November meeting, Helzer presented some graphs showing how roughly 20% of people who are stopped in traffic, taken into custody, and who have force used on them are Black, as if consistency among police action somehow justifies force being used. There was no mention that the custodies in both quarters were 21% Black, or roughly 3/4 as many people as had force used on them.
TAC members asked if there was any explanation, such as people driving in from out of town. Helzer claimed he had never thought of that concept before, even though at the November meeting, PPB analyst Shannon Smith told the TAC that "We run into issues with many of the persons who are arrested... are not Portland community members. They're community members from outside Portland, but they're represented in this total PPB custodies because they come to Portland, and they're arrested for various things."*-1
PCW's Dan Handelman pointed out that in order for there to be equitable policing, working with the (low) 20% figure on force, 89,000 people who are not Black would have to leave Portland on any given day, and 89,000 people who are Black would have to come in. That would mean the entire Black population of Oregon plus another 27,000 people would have to travel through Portland to make a 20% Black population.*-2 Handelman also pointed to the data in the Q3 report which show that only 35 of the 170 subjects were armed or 21%. Only five of 34 Black men (14%) were armed, while 19 of 74 white men or 26% were armed.
To his credit, Helzer did talk about the long history of poor treatment of Black people in our city. But he also said one reason for the skewed data could be the same people being arrested multiple times. TAC members asked for them to dig into the data to see whether that is accurate.
Regarding the surveys, TAC Chair Nathan Castle urged the group to vote on a recommendation to support the plan laid out by the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison Dennis Rosenbaum, which calls for an online survey managed by the Community Safety Division of the City. Members became concerned that this might be an unfunded mandate, so the idea was tabled. In public comment, Handelman pointed out that people think the Community Safety Division is part of the Police and might not trust the results... or the survey itself.
A discussion on similar lines happened at the January meeting, where Kris Henning from Portland State University presented results of a study showing that crime victims trying to file reports with the police were very unsatisfied. One reason: The Bureau's online portal for filing complaints was created by a national company and its template is not able to be modified. People who are unsure about the answers to some questions along the way and wait too long to reply get locked out, then have to start all over again.
The discussion was framed as "Customer Service," to which we noted (for the umpteenth time) that most people are not "customers" of the police-- did they walk into the police store and ask to be handcuffed?
Finally, back at the March meeting, a subset of the TAC reported on their observation of the Bureau's new Crowd Control training. This training was for "Mobile Field Forces," which are temporarily picking up the duties once covered by the Rapid Response Team (who resigned from their volunteer positions in 2021 after a member was indicted-- PPR #84). Not much of the report was spoken into the record, but it was adopted. Some highlights, so to speak: They teach officers there are two kinds of crowds, organized and spontaneous. The organized ones have leaders and specific objectives, the others have no central objectives. It's like a bad anthropology class. The report also refers to "tools" like CS gas, and pepper spray, which PCW continues to remind them are weapons, not tools. Apparently, even though the PPB won't deploy CS gas, they train on how to put on gas masks in case other agencies do.
Find more info at portland.gov/police/tac.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.