• Levi Greenacres

The Portland Police Bureau is convening a workgroup to review its policies for arresting juveniles, citing a controversial incident—first reported by the Mercury—in which officers arrested a 9-year-old girl a year ago.

In a press release earlier this afternoon, the bureau said it's hoping the public will help that effort by looking over police directives that involve arresting kids and providing thoughts.

"Because this issue has come up, it’s certainly in the public interest," says bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson. "It has spurred a specific interest in these policies."

The incident prompting the soul-searching occurred last spring.

In late April 2013, a group of preteens, including the 9-year-old in question, got into a fight near the Boys and Girls Club in New Columbia. Officers investigating the fight contacted the girl, a straight-A student, almost a week later. And when the cops didn't like her reaction— "vague answers," "inconsistent statements," looking down at the ground and crossing her arms, according to an incident report—they handcuffed the girl, in her bathing suit, and took her downtown.

The girl's mother, Latoya Harris, filed a complaint with the city's Independent Police Review Division last year, but was told the officers followed bureau policy. The most the division could do, Director Constantin Severe explained, was label the complaint a "service improvement opportunity." That would have allowed Harris to talk about the incident with the arresting officers—David McCarthy and Matthew Huspek—but not much more.

Harris decided to tell her daughter's story anyway, laying out the arrest at April's meeting of the Citizen Review Committee—a citizen panel charged with studying police bureau policies and hearing appeals in police misconduct cases.

The Mercury reported the incident on April 16, spurring immediate calls for changes to the city code. Just this week, the story was picked up by other news outlets—including a post yesterday on the national blog Simpson couldn't say when the bureau decided to form a workgroup on the policies, or who made that call.

It's fairly common for the bureau to review the rules officers need to follow. At the same time the bureau looks into the three policies that effect arrests of minors, it's also accepting comments on nearly 20 other directives. But most of those reviews never get much public attention, and certainly don't spur a press release asking for public input.

"We do this, but because of the interest in this case we want people to know this is a process and this is where you can go," Simpson says.

Under that process, the bureau will accept public input for the next 30 days, after which the workgroup— which Simpson said would include members of the bureau's Professional Standards Division, mayor's office, city attorney's office, and Independent Police Review Board—will mull over how the policies might be changed.

"When officers make a decision to make an arrest on a crime, the policy doesn’t give them the ability to say: I’m not going to handcuff a person," Simpson says. "Through this issue, potentially we’ve identified an area where the policy may need to be clarified."

The Citizen Review Committee will discuss "arrest and booking of minors" at its meeting tonight.