The Portland Police Bureau has confirmed it's on the verge of closing an extraordinarily troubling policy gap—finishing up rules, for the first time in its history, that directly govern when and how officers are allowed to take juveniles into custody.
That news comes straight from Captain Dave Famous, who reports directly to Police Chief Mike Reese and oversees the bureau's professional standards division, including policy reviews and internal investigations. Famous told the Citizen Review Committee last night that a final review of those policies by the chief's office and the city attorney's office—he called it "intense"—has begun "wrapping up."
Those rules will explicitly limit arrests of children 12 and younger, a "bright line," Famous said. The rules also will spell out a specific and high threshold for determining when a child is such a threat that she or he must be taken into custody. Cops who do take that action, in what the bureau hopes will be a "rare occurrence," will also have to report it to their supervisors.
Famous said the rules are a direct response to an incident the Mercury first detailed in April—the 2013 arrest and handcuffing of a nine-year-old African American girl in New Columbia. The girl's mother, Latoya Harris, had come to a CRC meeting that month—almost a year after her daughter's arrest—to lament that a complaint she filed hadn't resulted in meaningful discipline because, the cops ruled, because the girl's arrest was within policy. (Because the bureau's current policies don't spell out any special protections for young children.)
Her daughter had been in a fight at a youth club the week before. She was arrested on a Sunday night, taken to Central Precinct without her mother, after Officers David McCarthy and Matthew Huspek showed up at her house to question her. She hadn't resisted the officers. She was handcuffed for the ride. She was made to wait in cold holding room alone after being fingerprinted. She was still wearing her bathing suit, after a day running through the sprinkler.
The Mercury's story about the arrest sent ripples of shock through the city's juvenile justice advocates while also raising eyebrows in Portland City Hall. Only days after our story, advocates began crafting suggested policy changes that look much like what Famous has laid out. The bureau announced their interest in making those changes in May, and that's when other media finally decided to pile on. The incident wound up making national headlines.
Juvenile justice advocates were part of a task force helping the bureau craft the new rules. Famous shared his notes with me after the CRC meeting:
• Directive 850.30, Juveniles Custody, will reflect public sentiment and juvenile law regarding age, drawing distinctions between member encounters with juveniles twelve years of age and older or under. Taking custody of juveniles should be a rare occurrence, based on a substantial threat to safety, which must involve an articulable opportunity for directed aggression. For example, a juvenile with failing limbs or breaking property may not pose a substantial threat, while a juvenile with flailing limbs, access to weapons, and the intent to harm self, others, animals, or members may pose a substantial threat. Discussion of such a standard through the directives process has been painstaking, viewed in the light most favorable to the juvenile.
• Other layers of accountability, such as supervisor notification, consultation with Multnomah County, and report mandates are outlined.
• Similar provisions, including the age distinction/bright line rule, are being incorporated into Directive 640.70, Fingerprinting and Photographing of Juveniles, to ensure sensitivity and consistency when encountering juveniles, so as to prevent the incident that spawned this review.
The juvenile directives are the first to go through a new public review process created as part of federal reforms. Any policy directives under review will be posted to the bureau's website—with members of the public allowed to send comments for 30 days. There's even an email list you can join, so you can be notified immediately whenever new directives go up.