A copy of a curious email regarding the recently announced federal civil rights probe of the Portland Police Bureau, and its handling of the mentally ill, made its way into my inbox late last night. It's an auto-reply message from the Justice Department's community email address. I've copied it below, and put the most curious part in bold.
Subject: RE: Investigation of Portland Police Bureau -Policies & Practices
Thank you for contacting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Oregon (USAO) regarding the investigation of the Portland Police Bureau. The Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division and the USAO are currently conducting a civil investigation of the Portland Police Department pursuant to the police misconduct provision of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 14141.
The scope of our investigation limits us to incidents relating to the most current and recent (dated back to 2009) pattern and practice of misconduct. However, if you have general concerns that you believe may be relevant to our investigation, we would appreciate it if you would forward that information to us. Thank you again for contacting us.
Um, what? The Justice Department's probe is only looking at cases and complaints since 2009? And not, for example, at any of the litany of cases that made headlines, or didn't but should have, before 2009?
Not quite. The email is legit. But, it turns out,its mention of 2009 is a mistake. Justice Department sources, after I brought the questionable language to their attention, promised the email will be changed and guessed that it was a cut-and-paste error involving a similar auto-reply missive from another probe.
It's unknown how many people might have gotten the email. But anyone who did ought to ignore it, sources said. They also repeated, unequivocally, that there is no cutoff date or any other for cases or complaints they will or won't consider and that people should continue to send in tips and questions involving older cases.
The prospect of a 2009 cutoff date had some members of the police accountability community on high alert. Says Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman: "You can quote me saying, 'This is a huge relief.'"