Portland's police union has filed a formal grievance alleging the police bureau's use of force and performance review boards are humiliating to its officers, and is urging all union members to not show up for the review boards until its humiliation issues are resolved.
COP UNION CONTRACT: Contains discipline clause on officer "embarrassment"...
The grievance was filed on Monday, December 8, following a meeting of the Portland Police Association's (PPA's) executive board on Friday, December 5. PPA boss Scott Westerman lays out his concerns about the boards in tomorrow's issue of the cop paper The Rap Sheet: "When our members are subjected to unprofessional questioning where the member is grilled, embarrassed, or berated by members of these boards, it is unacceptable," he writes. You can read the article in full after the jump.
The Bureau's use of force and performance review boards were established in 2004, following recommendations made in a report on use of force by the California-based Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC). In 2005, the Police Bureau invited 20 citizen volunteers to participate in the boards, drawing from a pool whose names I've placed after the jump, in case you're interested. Just two citizens appear on each board, alongside three branch chiefs, two peer members, the review board coordinator, a representative from the city attorney's office, and others.
Officers' performance or use of force goes before these boards after a series of other steps. First, detectives investigate the incident on the scene, then an officer gets legal representation, and there may also be a grand jury hearing conducted by the District Attorney's office during this time. Then an incident is reviewed by training and internal affairs, before going to a precinct commander for review. If the precinct commander doesn't like what he sees, then the incident goes before the review board, but only after the commander has recommended discipline of some kind.
"What I oppose, is the calling of an officer to a board to answer questions that have already been answered three and sometimes four times earlier," says Westerman. "The vast majority of officers who have been through these boards have felt they were presumed guilty prior to their appearance."
There are also concerns, despite the supposedly non-confrontational nature of the boards, that citizen members are asking unnecessarily confrontational questions, or simply questions that belie a lack of training in police procedure. For example, Westerman says one PPA member was asked by a citizen on a use of force review board, "why didn't you just shoot him in the leg?" after having used deadly force—officers are trained to aim for "center mass" whenever they fire their guns. "Why should an officer who has had to use deadly force be subjected to that kind of questioning in a supposedly 'non-confrontational' setting?" Westerman asks.
Westerman asked several officers to go on record with accounts of their experience at the review boards for this article, but all declined. However, they reportedly said the following about their experiences, relayed through Westerman: "I felt attacked, and like the decision had been predetermined and nobody wanted to hear anything I wanted to say;" "Why do I have to relive this shit?" [after being asked about deadly use of force]; "Nobody should be subjected to this kind of crap" [following a citizen-grilling about a use of force that was found to be justified]. Another PPA member reportedly compared their experience before the boards to the Nuremberg trials.
A representative from the Police Chief's office is yet to respond to the Mercury's request for comment.
"I hope that they don't succeed with this," says police accountability activist Dan Handelman, from Portland Copwatch. "Our complaint, from the outside, has always been that these boards aren't open to the public, that the citizen members are sworn to secrecy, and that we never find out what the outcome has been. How is any of that humiliating to the officers involved? All we hear is that they meet, and the Independent Police Review recently started publishing statistics on discipline. That's all. It's not even a transparent system, so it's discouraging that the police are complaining about it."
Westerman's Rap Sheet article in full:
Now for the meat of this article. I am sure you have already heard about the Executive Board’s decision regarding the Use of Force and Performance Review Boards. At the December Executive Board meeting, I encouraged the Executive Board to file a grievance over the Bureau’s use of these boards. In addition to voting to file the grievance, we unanimously voted to recommend that PPA members NOT participate in either of these boards until the many problematic aspects of them have been fully addressed.
This was not a decision I took lightly. I fully recognize the Bureau’s need to have transparency in regards to the use of force, especially deadly force by Portland Police officers. It is not my intent to prevent that from happening. However, the Bureau and the PPA simply disagree with the manner in which this transparency occurs.
The Citizen’s Review Committee currently looks at all complaints against the police with the names of the officer(s) and other information necessary to identify the exact incident redacted to allow them to focus solely on the actions and not the person or incident. The PARC report also evaluated the Police Bureau’s past use of deadly force in a similar manner. I am not opposed to the Police Bureau conducting a similar review for all uses of force and performance reviews. This would allow them to have citizen input regarding training needs, and performance issues.
What I oppose, is the calling of an officer to a board to answer questions that have already been answered three and sometimes four times earlier. In an idealistic world, this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. But when our members are subjected to unprofessional questioning where the member is grilled, embarrassed, or berated by members of these boards, it is unacceptable.
Another issue the Executive Board considered when voting on this, was the fact that the vast majority of officers who have been through these boards have felt they were presumed guilty prior to their appearance. This has been reiterated, however unintentionally, by command personnel when they frequently mention that these boards are “in the best interest of the member” because it puts a face to the proposed discipline. For the members who have gone in to these boards and have had their discipline reduced from what was originally proposed, I would submit that the same “face” can, and has, been put on the person during the due process mitigation hearing with the police chief.
Furthermore, many members have described these boards as “traumatizing.” Again, I fully recognize the Bureau’s need to have transparency, and I don’t believe it was ever their intent to have our members humiliated or embarrassed. While this move by the PPA may be considered a line in the sand by some, I have every intention of working with the Police Bureau administration to find a suitable review process, not against them.
Finally, engage your PPA Representative in discussion about these boards and any other issues important to you.
Past or current citizen members of the boards include: Stanley Abrams, Gwenn Baldwin, Richard Brown, Brian Dailo, David Denecke, William Dickson, Loren Eriksson, Virgil Hall, Sabrina Keen, Thomas Markgraf, Diane Marsh, Patrick Messinger, Anita Noble, Patricia O'Sullivan, Bradley Perkins, Roy Pittman, Francis Portillo, Ayoob Ramjan, Lewellyn Robison, Danny Rosen, Patricia TenEyck, Bob Ueland, Sheri Winkelman and Mary Zinkin.