SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, a citizen lodged a complaint with the city's Independent Police Review (IPR) about the conduct of a Portland police officer on the MAX platform at SE 82nd.
The officer, from Portland Police Bureau's TriMet division, was doing a fare check as passengers were climbing the stairs from the platform, and asked a young man for his pass. The man briefly flashed the officer an honored-citizen pass, and the officer said, "I need to see it," at which point the officer alleged the citizen hit him with the pass, refused to show it again, and a fight ensued.
An internal affairs investigator looked into the fight, and the IPR's Citizen Review Committee (CRC) did not uphold the citizen's excessive-force complaint.
However, a Milwaukie police officer who saw the entire incident was not allowed to testify to Portland's Internal Affairs Department by his own bureau—thanks to an unfortunate oversight loophole, which has the CRC members concerned.
"I don't know if the Milwaukie officer's testimony would have changed the outcome of the complaint because I don't know what the officer would have said," says Michael Bigham, chair of the CRC. "But we should have heard it."
Officers from Milwaukie, Hillsboro, Beaverton, and Washington County work in Portland on MAX with Portland's TriMet cops under intergovernmental agreements. But because of the way those agreements are written, those officers are subject to a lower standard of oversight than regular Portland cops. If a fellow Portland cop had witnessed the fight, for example, they would have been compelled to testify to Portland Police Bureau's internal affairs detectives.
"My concern is that if these officers are working in my jurisdiction, they should be responsible for the same rules as Portland cops," says CRC member Hank Miggins.
Last week, TriMet Commander Vince Jarmer told the CRC that he could compel outside officers to write a police report on the incident if a Portland officer was involved, but that he couldn't force them to come in for questioning.
Jarmer wrote in a follow-up letter to Bigham that he thought it "unlikely" that the intergovernmental agreements could be amended.
"Making a statement or writing a report is not the same as being interviewed," says Copwatch activist Dan Handelman. "Especially with calls for increased security on TriMet, this issue needs to be resolved quickly."
TriMet and Central Precinct are tied for the highest numbers of use-of-force complaints per officer in the police bureau. Now, Bigham and the CRC plan to take their concerns about oversight on the MAX to Portland's city council.
"The CRC really doesn't have control over this," says Bigham. "But we're hoping that if this is brought to the public's attention, it may bring about change at the city level."