"Independent" Police Review 2019 Annual Report: Five Short Pages Signifying (Almost) Nothing
an initial commentary by Portland Copwatch May 19, 2020

On May 7, the "Independent" Police Review (IPR) released its 2019 Annual Report, or at least the strangely formatted document they labeled an Annual Report. Whereas in past years, the Report has listed important items around accountability including information on deadly force incidents, the new document mostly encourages people to visit IPR's website for more information. The new five page document only includes two pages with any data at all about the system of police complaints, with one page of introductions, one analyzing progress on IPR's five year strategic plan, and one laying out aspirational goals for 2020 (in other words, this page is in no way a report on IPR's activities in 2019). Moreover, the document appears to be laid out on 8.5x17" sheets, which is not a common paper size, so printing it is a challenge. The Report can be found at
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/ipr/article/760532. The below initial analysis from Portland Copwatch (PCW) is confined mostly to the data included in the document itself; we intend to put out a more detailed "People's Report on the 'Independent' Police Review 2019" in the coming weeks as we piece together data from past years and the IPR's various "dashboards." Our commentary below about numbers which are not provided in the Report is meant to underscore the importance that the paid IPR staff should relay information to the community in a thorough and transparent way, rather than making community members jump through extra hoops to find data.

Before getting to the data that is included, here are some other items which used to appear in past Reports which are not in the new document:
--a list of the most common types of allegations;
--the number of complaints relating to force and other categories (such as Policy or Procedure);
--the number of findings other than "Sustained" (out of policy);
--links to the annual outside consultant's report on deadly force incidents, which this time came out in February 2019; and
--how many investigations were done by Internal Affairs versus those conducted by IPR.

This last item is actually pretty astounding-- the agency touting itself as independent from the police, trying to build community trust and transparency, isn't even motivated to report how many times they conducted investigations in 2019 without Bureau employees taking the lead.*-1

Portland Copwatch has also repeatedly expressed concern about IPR's coverage of the civilian review body attached to their office, known as the Citizen Review Committee (CRC). The largest omission in this year's report is that the extremely rare CRC appeal taken to City Council last May led to the first-ever "Sustained" finding by the elected Commissioners, meaning the CRC's recommendation was required by City Code to be accepted by the Bureau. *-2 The outcome of that case isn't even mentioned-- it just says "disagreement between the Committee and the Chief led to an appeal to City Council."

For the third year in a row, IPR has gotten information wrong about the outcome of cases in which community members appealed the Bureau's findings to CRC. This year, they incorrectly claimed that CRC heard four cases and upheld Bureau findings in three. In fact, CRC heard only three cases-- 2019-x-0001, in which a woman accused of theft said an officer was rude, biased toward the person accusing her, and spoke to her rather than her lawyer; 2019-x-0002, in which a man said three officers used excessive force and ignored his complaints of a former injury; and 2019-x-0003, in which a woman said an officer failed to take action on her stolen car complaint. IPR says CRC agreed with the Bureau's findings in "three" cases, but really it was just the first two. In the third, they recommended a "Sustained" finding, which IPR relates vaguely as the Committee "challenging [the finding] as not reasonable based on the evidence.".*-3

IPR also mentions CRC's five Work Groups did not meet often in 2019, which is true. However, IPR does not mention that the CRC held a forum on the Bureau's Crowd Control policies on April 10, 2019. Past Reports would list the names of the Work Groups, the gist of what they were working on, the names of the CRC members, and their community activities.

The first set of data in the 2019 Report (on p. 2) shows what happened to the 408 complaints processed by IPR. According to the Report, only four of those cases were still pending-- though it is not clear if that number relates to the date the Report was written or the end of 2019, which would be the appropriate measure for an annual review. They explain that IPR administratively closed 38% of cases, which if thoroughly accurate would mark the lowest in IPR's 18-year history. They claim that more cases are being investigated after the 2018 introduction of "Supervisory Investigations," a more formal way to process non-disciplinary complaints (formerly called Service Improvement Opportunities). However, that is not true. The total percentage of cases with full (92) or non-disciplinary (75) investigations is 41% (156 of 408). That number was 30% in 2015, 38% in 2016 and 44% in 2017, before Supervisory Investigations were adopted; prior to that the number used to hover at about 20-23%. The real reason for the uptick in investigated cases is likely that due to the Settlement Agreement with the US Department of Justice, the City is now required to investigate all force allegations. Moreover, a huge reason the dismissal rate went down is that in 2019, IPR sent 76 cases to Precinct Commanders for their information, the largest number we have on record and a huge jump from the 11 such referrals in 2018. The referrals do not constitute investigations and do not necessarily prompt any kind of follow up action with the officer or the complainant. Combining these two categories of cases not investigated, the overall dismissal plus referral rate was 57% in 2019-- on a par with the 54-60% rates from 2016-2018.

Stepping out a little from past practices, after noting that only six (about 1.5%) of the cases were handled through mediation between the complainants and officers, in their plans for 2020, IPR pledges to promote the practice of community members being able to sit down and talk about their concerns with the involved officer and a mediator.

The next data point explains that of 69 internal police-on-police ("B" or Bureau) complaints, 50 were investigated. The text then says that "the remainder were closed after initial review of the evidence." The related graphic shows that 13 were dismissed but six were handled as Supervisory Investigations. That number is up from two handled as non-disciplinary complaints in the previous two years, but lower than the 14-20 in 2013-2015. IPR is capable of making such comparisons in the Report but does not.

The only timeline showing trends over the years appears on p. 3, indicating the number of cases in which misconduct was found from 2012-2019. This is only mildly helpful, as the number of Sustained findings appears next to bars in the graphic on the top half, while the non-sustained findings below that line are just proportional boxes with no numbers. Using a ruler to measure the bars, it appears that about 300 allegations were found "Exonerated" (in policy), "Not Sustained" (insufficient evidence), or "Unfounded" (facts don't support the claim) in 2019, while only 21 were Sustained. If that is accurate, that marks a 6.5% "Sustain rate" when measuring investigated claims, lower than the 9.8% in 2018, or 13% in the previous two years. PCW believes the more accurate way to measure the "Sustain rate" is to compare all allegations that were Sustained with how many came through the door, but the full number of allegations (prior to dismissal, referrals, etc.) is not provided.

The final set of data outlines the various ways in which the Bureau doled out discipline based on 32 cases where misconduct was found-- which we compare here to the 36 incidents from 2018. As usual, the Report does not differentiate how many of these acts of discipline resulted from community complaints rather than Bureau cases, which tend to be more procedural in nature, resulting in a higher Sustain rate. IPR reports that 13 officers received Command Counseling (down from 20), nine received Letters of Reprimand (up from 6), six received two weeks off or less without pay (down from 9), three got more than two weeks off and one was demoted (each category was at zero in 2018). Notably, there were no officers terminated in 2019, while five resigned before being disciplined.

Though IPR makes mention of the Police Review Board (PRB), on which they have a permanent seat, there is no analysis of how many cases that behind-closed-doors body heard or what their recommended findings or discipline were. There is no mention of the dozens of policy recommendations made by the PRB to the Bureau.

IPR does mention the existence of its own recommendations around arrests of houseless people (p. 1), but only makes that reference an active link to a web page, rather than explaining what the recommendations were or whether they were adopted. They say two policy reviews will be published in 2020 on the Transit Division and how the PPB interacts with people who do not speak English. Again, this is not particularly relevant to a Report on 2019 activities.

The fourth page, which looks at the Strategic Plan, says the goal of IPR is a city "where equitable enforcement and trust in police leads to a safer community." It sounds as if that means the stated goals of the DOJ Agreement, to lower the amount of force used by the PPB and improve accountability, are not as important as making sure everyone has force used on them equitably.

The analysis of the IPR's Plan lists a number of items which are completed, and others which are in process including finding ways to compel officer testimony. They say they are working on a way to schedule the officers' interviews without Internal Affairs' help, which "achieves this strategic goal within the legal constraint." We shall see.

IPR also reports that they have a new case management system so they can "track complaints that were not policy violations but reflect issues of community concern, such as use of force and disparate treatment." The question is, what are they doing with that information?

One other key former feature of IPR's Reports used to be case summaries, which would give Portlanders a general idea of what kinds of things people are complaining about and how the system was handling those complaints. IPR states they have now created an online "dashboard" with such case summaries. Breaking a bit from our pledge to base this document mostly on the information in the written Report, PCW went to find that dashboard (no link was provided). Many of the cases are several years old, and many made their way to the Citizen Review Committee upon appeal. None of the narratives mention CRC, and they are often so oblique as to obscure the conduct being alleged.

PCW is not going to make comments at this time on IPR's plans for 2020 (p. 5) as they are aspirational in nature, and actions speak louder than words.


In our May 2020 newsletter, People's Police Report #80, PCW called upon community members to contact IPR "asking for a thorough Annual Report with information on common complaints, deadly force, investigation/appeal outcomes, discipline and more, also highlighting the hard work of CRC members." Little did we know that IPR's report was just days away from being published at the time we made that suggestion. IPR Reports started out as 100+ page tomes, full of many tables and charts, and details on how the system works. In later years, more reasonably sized 30+ page reports managed to get a lot of similar information into smaller packages. In the last several years, the reports have shrunk to under 20 pages, mostly full of infographics and excluding the kind of analysis of trends one would expect from a vibrant police oversight body. In our follow up analysis, our all-volunteer group promises to provide as many of those data points as we can using IPR's online information. But we should not have to do so.

Back to top


*1- IPR is not allowed to compel officers to testify and has to ask the Bureau to order officers to answer their questions. They also do not have access to law enforcement databases they need to conduct fully independent investigations.
back to text

*2- This was for case 2018-x-0003, which we wrote about last year, involving a woman who took a photo of a police armored vehicle and made a disapproving face. The CRC believed the officer ordered her to be cited for jaywalking as retaliation, and Council agreed.
back to text

*3- This case is apparently on hold for a Conference Hearing because Chief Resch disagreed with the proposed finding.
back to text

back to top

Analyses of older IPR Reports
Portland Copwatch home page
Peace and Justice Works home page

Posted May 19, 2020