A survey shows tepid support for the idea that the police bureau fosters a supportive learning environment.
  • A survey shows tepid support for the idea that the police bureau fosters a "supportive learning environment."
After decades of outcry over police shootings, expensive court settlements over beatings and Taserings, controversial arbitration rulings, and reports of cops caught up in road rage incidents, community members often pose the question: How well does the Portland Police Bureau learn, if at all, from its occasionally deadly mistakes?

A city audit (pdf) released this morning offers some answers, and those answers—while couched with encouraging words about the bureau's receptiveness and significant progress in recent years—suggest the bureau has been painfully slow to make some key changes in officer discipline, training, and accountability.

"Mistakes can mean the difference between life and death for an officer or a community member," Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade writes.

Two examples really stick out:

• Five years after an internal bureau review board called for better training and outside reviews of Portland's tactical officers—recommendations sparked by the 2005 shooting of Raymond Gwerder, killed even though he was on the phone with a hostage negotiator—those changes have yet to be made.

• And despite a 1993 audit calling for "Employee Intervention System" that would track problem officers so they could get training and counseling early, the bureau didn't have the system in place until 2007 and then took four more years, until last December, to start using it. (The public, when trying to track cops, isn't so lucky.) The system now follows cops on a variety of issues, including tort cases, complaints, and higher-than-normal use of force, but the audit rapped the bureau for not doing enough to review that information regularly or get it into the hands of senior commanders.

The audit doesn't mince words about the implications of that delay.

Immediately after detailing that timeline, it says: "More timely action on this item may have assisted the Bureau in avoiding some problems with individual officers over the past several years."

Beyond those points, the audit says the bureau needs to start annual performance reviews for officers—something Police Chief Mike Reese and Mayor Sam Adams have long discussed. Reese wrote to the auditor's office that he's getting ready to hash out the implications of those reviews with the Portland Police Association.

It also says investigations of misconduct claims have been too slow. It notes there's been too much turnover among the sergeants, lieutenants, commanders, and assistant chiefs who run precincts and train officers. It wants the bureau to clarify discipline policies and make them more consistent, making suspensions and reprimands more likely to withstand union challenges.

And it expresses concern that only a fraction of officers surveyed by the auditor's office feel like the bureau listens to concerns and suggestions.