Portland Copwatch's preliminary analysis shows that
structural issues raised by resigning review board members
and the public are misrepresented or ignored
August 31, 2004

The local police accountability group Portland Copwatch has completed a preliminary analysis of the Independent Review Division (IPR)'s 2003 Annual Report, released on August 30th, calling the report "self-congratulatory" and "out of touch with the community." Despite the fact that the IPR's 160-plus page report acknowledges the resignation of over half of its Citizen Review Committee (CRC) last August, the reasons behind those resignations are misrepresented. Furthermore, a public forum held in June, 2003 to take community input on ways to improve the IPR/CRC system of police oversight and a subsequent IPR/CRC retreat to discuss structural concerns are not even mentioned in the report."

As with the 2002 annual report, there are some sections of the IPR's report that show some progress, and helpful sections including examples of alleged misconduct and cases in which officers were ultimately disciplined for their actions. One example is the story of an officer-initiated complaint against a fellow officer who kicked a suspect in the head and wrote in his report that the suspect "swung his head into my foot"; the city later settled out-of-court for $17,000 (p. 74).

Portland Copwatch challenges IPR Director Richard Rosenthal and Auditor Gary Blackmer, who oversee the IPR/CRC processes, to present their report formally to City Council and allow public input. The Council promised a review one year after the IPR was created; it has now been 3 years since the ordinance went into effect. Auditor Blackmer's pledge in his cover letter to hire an outside "expert" to review the system "relative to the best practices in the nation" is a transparent bid to hire an expert such as Sam Walker, who favors audit-style systems over fully independent review boards, to rubber stamp the increasingly staff-heavy, citizen-unfriendly IPR. It is the people of Portland who demanded changes to PIIAC (the previous review board) and it is the people of Portland whose review of the effectiveness of the IPR truly matters. (Last year, the Auditor only released the report at an "informal" session of Council, meaning there was no public input.)











Specific shortcomings highlighted by the resigning CRC members and the public include:

--The CRC's standard for attaching proper findings to allegations should be changed from a "reasonable person" standard to "preponderance of the evidence." The lower "reasonable person" standard ties the hands of "reasonable" people on the CRC who may consider the finding inappropriate, but are forced to agree that "a reasonable person could make the finding in light of the evidence."

--The Director should eliminate the "Conference Committee," which the Bureau uses as an interim step to try to change the CRC's vote prior to taking a contested case to City Council. This extra step was eliminated briefly at the request of the CRC, but the Director had the new CRC vote to re-instate it before they had even heard their first appeal (and thus understood the ramifications of the decision). The conference committee played a role in a specific appeal which led to what may have been an invalid outcome in one case (see below).

--The CRC should be more actively involved in selection of new members. The Director and the Auditor went so far as to request a change to City Code to support their interpretation of the original ordinance that allowed them, not Citizens, to make those decisions. It was passed in July, 2003, but again is not mentioned in the report.

--The report also fails to mention that after the Director accidentally sent information regarding missing police shootings files to the CRC, he visited each of them at home and demanded that they turn the information over to him. When that story was reported in the news, the missing files were discovered in a different Division of the Police Bureau.

Other community concerns, many of which were outlined in Portland Copwatch's analysis of the 2002 report (see include:

--The CRC should be allowed to make policy recommendations based on common sense. While the IPR touts the two reports released in late 2003/early 2004, it fails to mention that the single recommendation in the Hooper Detox report, which was to allow people close to their own homes to return home instead of taking them to Detox, was rejected by the Chief. This report took over a year to write and that recommendation could have been forwarded by the CRC upon completion of three appeals it heard in 2002.

--To be truly independent, the IPR should be given authority under the "Garrity rule" to compel officer testimony as a condition of employment. Unlike subpoena power, which allows officers to plead the Fifth Amendment as is their constitutional right (as was done by an officer involved in an off-duty brawl in Hillsboro--see p. 76), a Garrity warning sets aside use of an officer's responses in criminal proceedings in order to effectively complete administrative reviews. (The officer in the brawl was not charged with a crime because there were not enough witnesses, as is often the case. In other cases, like the two off-duty officers whose beating of a civilian and its subsequent coverup landed seven officers in hot water [p. 73], a decision can be made early on to conduct an investigation as a crime as opposed to misconduct depending on the number of available witnesses, prior to the interview of the officers.)

--The IPR should be given full power to conduct independent investigations. The concept of being fully independent from the Bureau was once again reflected in many of the citizen comments about the weaknesses of the system (p. 135).

The report also leaves out important information on specific cases. Most significant is case 2002-x-0017, the case of Merrick Bonneau, who was mistaken for his half-brother and roughed up while being arrested for resisting arrest. The CRC had recommended "Sustained" findings on findings relating to the reasonableness of the arrest and incomplete reports filed by officers responding. During "Conference Committee" hearings, the Bureau, rather than accepting or rejecting the CRC's recommendations, stated that they had changed those findings to "Insufficient Evidence." Those findings, not the original "Exonerated" findings, were upheld by City Council in their first and only hearing to date under the IPR system. This process is not at all clear from the IPR's chart on page 67 and its narrative on pages 67-68.

Finally, the report glosses over citizen dissatisfaction with the system, especially the worthy but clearly unsatisfactory mediation system. Reporting on 30-31 citizens who participated in the process (even though only 22 mediations were completed by the end of 2003), the report shows (on p. 105) that citizen/civilian satisfaction with the process (51.6 percent) was far lower that officer satisfaction (70.0 percent). One reason for this may be that officers merely have to show up for mediation; even if they do not actively participate, the incident in question cannot be investigated as misconduct.

Similarly, the IPR seems unconcerned that the overall satisfaction rate with the complaint process went down from 25.8 percent in 2002 to 24.1 percent in 2003.

With numerous references to the IPR's accomplishments--a higher rate of Mediation than any system in the country, a ninety-two percent completion rate of cases within a goal of 150 days (mostly due to minimizing 55 percent of cases sent to Internal Affairs as "service complaints"), and its overall structure (quoting the above-mentioned Sam Walker on p. 149) the report seems more self-congratulatory than is realistic. By misrepresenting the mass resignation of the CRC as being due to "some members believ[ing] that IPR staff were, or should be, directed by and accountable to them" rather than their repeated statements that they felt unsupported by the IPR staff, the Auditor and Director show that they are out of touch with the community they are supposed to be serving.

The IPR report is on line as a .pdf file at =27727 .

For more information call Portland Copwatch at (503) 236-3065. For information on the IPR call 503-823-0146.

Portland Copwatch
a project of Peace and Justice Works
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120

Analysis of 2002 report

Copwatch home page

Peace and Justice Works home page

Posted August 3, 2005