Portland Copwatch Analyzes "Independent" Police Review Division 2007 Annual Report

Table of contents
Statistics, You Know the Rest, And Statistics
Attitude Adjustment: Worrisome Language and Information
Timeliness is Not On Our Side
What Did IPR Know and When Did It Know It?

Portland Copwatch
a project of Peace and Justice Works
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland's Police Oversight Body Continues Using Misleading Statistics
Despite Criticisms, "Independent" Police Review Division
Continues Covering for Weaknesses in Its 2007 Annual Report
an analysis by Dan Handelman, Portland Copwatch
Web Version--January 1, 2009 (Revised from October 10, 2008)

With no sense of irony, the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), responsible for handling citizen complaints about Portland's police, released its 2007 annual report on the second anniversary of the death of James Chasse, Jr. Just as they attempted to do when they released the 2006 PARC report on deadly force last January, the IPR pointed to the apparent drop in police shootings as a sign of progress, the implication being that the IPR was responsible for this drop. They also claimed that Use of Force complaints are down 34%, while failing to question whether citizens who learned that the IPR and the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) only held one officer accountable for excessive use of force in the past six years might be reluctant to file a complaint. A review of the IPR system by consultant Eileen Luna Firebaugh released in January noted that there was little community trust in the system, in part because of the IPR's too- cozy relationship with the police.

Portland Copwatch applauds the IPR for getting the 2007 annual report out before the end of the calendar year (the 2005/2006 reports weren't released until February this year), and for including statistics and details about the Use of Force Review Board. However, if the IPR continues to try making themselves look better by manipulating statistics, they will do nothing to improve their trust with the community.

back to table of contents back to top

Statistics, You Know the Rest, And Statistics

The report claims that the oversight system is working better, in part because the IPR says more officers have been found guilty of misconduct and the Bureau's Internal Affairs Division (IAD) has investigated a larger percentage of cases sent to it by the IPR--25% rather than 15%. Looking more closely at the raw figures, the number of "sustained" findings last year was 22, while it was 26 in 2003 and 27 in 2006 (the numbers in 2002, 2004, and 2005 were 5, 13 and 13 respectively [p. 19]). In other words, there is no evidence that there is a trend in "sustaining" more cases-- while a look at the amount of misconduct that has surfaced publicly, including several officers who resigned while facing criminal charges, suggests that misconduct may just be more prevalent. As to the larger percentage of IAD investigations, the total number of cases investigated in 2007 was 55, or about average since the inception of IPR (although the IAD investigated 86 cases in 2002, 60 in 2003, and 65 in 2006 [p. 16]). One reason the IAD is rejecting fewer cases, even as acknowledged by the IPR itself, is that the IPR is dismissing more at the front end.

In reporting the low number of police shootings-- there were only 2 in all of 2007 -- the IPR failed to connect that one of the two shootings, when Officer Stephanie Rabey shot Lesley Paul Stewart in the back of the head, repeated a tactical error that the Use of Force Review Board (UFRB) allegedly addressed. According to the IPR report (p. 28), the lack of communication between Leo Besner, the sniper who shot Raymond Gwerder in the back in November 2005, and hostage negotiators, who were on the phone with Gwerder, was highlighted as a needed policy change by the UFRB. Despite the awareness of this problem, Rabey shot Stewart while he was on the phone with a police Sergeant. In other words, the quantity of shootings may be down, but the potential misconduct involved is just as serious. (Also, Stewart is African American, and the IPR has still not addressed why so many more people of color are shot at by police, or for that matter why so many African Americans file complaints with the IPR.)

Furthermore, the shootings chart in the report arbitrarily begins in the year 1997, comparing the five years from 2003 to 2007 (9.2 average per year) to the six years from 1997 to 2002 (4.8 average per year). Why six years and five years? Because if the chart went back one more year, to 1996, when there were only 5 shootings (as opposed to the 9+ in following years) or 1995, when there was only one shooting, the averages do not show quite so stark a contrast, at 7.6 per year in '95-'02 and 4.8 per year in '03-'07. Dividing the dates to when IPR first opened its doors in January, 2002, the figures are even closer at 7.6 and 5.3 per year on average-- a 30% drop, not 48%.

It also is dangerous for the IPR to make claims about the low number of shootings, when Portland officers shot as many people in the span of three days this May as they did in all of 2007.

While the IPR deserves credit for speculating that the raw number of shootings may have dropped in part because of the introduction of Tasers (p. 27), they do not use statistics to correlate the fast- rising use of those electroshock weapons since 2002 directly to the lower number of shootings. They do not address the question of how frequently officers use Tasers--about 400 times per year, according to the IPR Use of Force Report--and that Taser use is far more frequent than officers would have previously used firearms.

Most disturbingly, the IPR's number one purpose for existing is to take complaints of police misconduct, yet their charter restricts them to defer questions on police shootings to an outside contractor. Thus, making the issue of how often police use deadly force their number one report highlight is disingenuous.

As for that 34% drop in Use of Force complaints, which the IPR looks at per 1000 contacts, there has been a similar drop in the overall number of allegations, resulting in a consistent proportion of force allegations compared to all others--about 8% per year (p. 9). The fact that the previous IPR Director explicitly told the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) that she does not list every allegation contained in citizens' complaints may account for the drop in both overall allegations and complaints about use of force.

Regarding the number of complaints per 1000 police contacts, the IPR makes a lot of the drop from a rate of 1.8 in 2004 to 1.6 in 2007, about 15% (p. 8). However, the 2002 annual report shows that rate was 1.2 complaints per 1000 contacts 6 years ago (though it was wrongly reported as 0.9), meaning complaints are up 25% since then.

The demographic information about complaints shows that African Americans account for about 18% of the complainants each year, while only being 6.6% of the population (p. 10). Since statistics from the Racial Profiling committee show that African Americans make up 14% of traffic stops, are searched 25% of the time (twice the rate of white drivers), are 24% of pedestrian stops, and make up about 29% of those who are arrested and who have force used against them, it would be useful to know why these disparities continue. While the IPR apparently took steps to work on Disparate Treatment issues with Washington County, the NW Constitutional Rights Center, and others (p. 48), nowhere does the IPR show the intellectual curiosity as to why the percentage of African American complainants is so high.

In terms of the public perception of Portland's complaint system, the IPR says not to pay too much attention to the survey they take of complainants, yet make an issue that satisfaction with outcomes is up by 11 percent and dissatisfaction is down by 18 percent. Those statistics are less impressive when one looks at the actual numbers, which are 32 percent satisfied and 50 percent dissatisfied. Oddly, the IPR complains that they don't have enough data to take a meaningful sample, yet they deliberately sent out only 1/3 as many surveys as in the past, receiving roughly 1/3 of the returns as usual--only 33. (Ms. Luna Firebaugh's report was criticized for a "low" sampling of 352 citizen responses.)

Perhaps the most egregious of the misleading statistics, also used by the IPR when the Luna- Firebaugh report came out, is the statement that in the Auditor's city-wide survey, "favorable responses regarding efforts to control police misconduct outnumbered non-favorable responses by 50% in 2007" (p. 49). Here, the raw numbers are 38% giving a favorable response and 25% giving a non-favorable one-- numbers that serve to confuse by using the figure 50% in any way. When 3 of every 8 people support your work, 2 of 8 do not support your work, and the other 3 of 8 (36%) have no opinion, there is no reason to try spinning the numbers to look good.

The IPR's own survey shows satisfaction by those using the system is only 35%, with dissatisfaction at 45% this year, the lowest to date. The IPR claims that the Auditor's survey of all Portlanders is a better bellweather to show citizen satisfaction with the system, but wouldn't the people best suited to assess the police oversight system be those civilians who actually utilized it?

back to table of contents back to top

Attitude Adjustment: Worrisome Language and Information

For an agency that is trying to win the respect of the public, the IPR needs to do better. In describing why five of the 172 tort claims they rejected were passed over, they say they contained "rambling conspiracy theories filed by unrepresented claimants" (p. 23). Seeing that some people's complaints are labelled this way might not imbue the public with confidence their complaints will be taken seriously. To their credit, the IPR suggests that the CRC audit how they handle tort claims.

Perhaps explaining some of the drop-off in Use of Force complaints, the IPR appears to have re- labelled the use of pepper spray (or "aerosol restraints") as a "control hold" as opposed to a use of force (p. 4). The Bureau's old "levels of control" continuum placed pepper spray as a control against "physical resistance," while control holds are to be used against "passive resistance." Anyone who has been affected by pepper spray, and several people who have died after its use-- including Dickie Dow here in Portland in 1998--would argue that "aerosol restraints" are a use of force as much as a baton, Taser or "beanbag" gun.

The report notes in several places (pp. 14, 16 and 17) that the IPR can conduct additional or fully independent investigations from IAD, but fails to report whether the IPR has ever done so (for certain, they have never done a full independent investigation-- one of the major critiques of the system levelled by Ms. Luna Firebaugh's report).

In another disconcerting note, the report casually mentions that the Bureau will be training officers about "Excited Delirium" in their "in-service training" (p. 28). To our knowledge, there is no such medical diagnosis, but rather "Excited Delirium" is often cited by police as a cause of death for people who die suddenly in police custody, usually after being hit with Tasers, pepper spray or some form of restraints.

back to table of contents back to top

Timeliness is Not On Our Side

One of the largest complaints about the old accountability system, PIIAC, that was agreed upon by both the Majority and Minority reports prepared by the Mayor's Work Group in 2000, was the lack of timeliness in investigations. The goal of 10 weeks (70 days) was written into the directive on Internal Affairs and is still one goal listed by IPR. However, the report leaves off the fact that 49% of cases were handled in this time frame in 2002, while the rate today is 20% (p. 17). When the report shows that about 90% of cases are completed in 150 days, there is no correlation to the fact that 10% of all complaints are fully investigated by IAD--thus accounting for the 10% that take longer than 5 months to resolve.

back to table of contents back to top

What Did IPR Know and When Did It Know It?

In addition, the IPR fails to incorporate information, makes broad claims with no evidence, or implies they do not know something they should.

In an example of double standards, the 2007 annual report repeats several times that the police changed their policy on use of force in May 2008 (pp. 20, 25 &29), but refers to the Luna- Firebaugh report only once, saying it is "planned to" be released in early 2008 (p. 1), even though that report has been published and discussed and should have an similar impact into the future as the new use of force policy.

Regarding cases being dismissed by the IPR before they are even sent to Internal Affairs, the IPR claims they are turning down complaints which "would be rejected or not sustained" by IAD (p. 12). The question is, how do they know what the IAD would do? This question is not answered. Fortunately, the Citizen Review Committee is about to review dismissals by IPR and declinations by IAD for appropriateness, a review that was suggested to take place every 6 months but hasn't happened for four years.

When discussing officers with multiple complaints, the report says that officers who were in the top five "tend to be different from year to year, suggesting that PPB or the officers themselves take some form of effective action to reduce complaints the following year" (p. 32). As an oversight body, shouldn't the IPR know whether such action was taken? In showing examples of "Officer A" and "Officer B," who had 22 and 19 complaints against them in two year stretches, respectively, the IPR says they "dropped out of the top 10 list" but doesn't say whether they still had multiple complaints against them.

back to table of contents back to top


Overall, our concern remains that the IPR should show its accomplishments and shortcomings honestly without trying to play with the statistics to make themselves look better. We expect to revise this analysis one more time after we've had time to discuss concerns with IPR staff and incorporate more details.* Had the IPR given more public advance notice of the Council hearing, that report would have been ready today.

*Note: We were able to discuss many concerns with IPR staff; they subsequently put out a follow-up to City Council. We revised one part of the Statistics section; other changes may still be forthcoming (1/1/09).

back to table of contents back to top
Portland Copwatch home page
Peace and Justice Works home page

Posted January 1, 2009