The Portland Police Bureau plans to make more than a dozen changes to its use-of-force policies, after a report last week raised concerns about citizen complaints.
The biggest concern raised in the report, issued last Tuesday, April 24, by the bureau and the Independent Police Review (IPR), is that citizen complaints in regards to officers' use of force are much less likely to be upheld in Portland than elsewhere around the country.
The report, which analyzed the cops' uses of force between August 2004 and September 2006, found that the police bureau did not sustain a single citizen use-of-force complaint during those 26 months. Nationally, an average of eight to 14 percent of complaints are upheld.
While there were occasions where the officer may have used crass language or acted in an aggressive manner, rather than using force, the bureau let its officers completely off the hook more often than the national average, exonerating officers of all wrongdoing in 62 percent of cases—more than double the national average of between 21 and 28 percent.
In response to these findings, Police Chief Rosie Sizer promised to tighten up the bureau's use-of-force policies—by clearly defining what is "reasonable" force, and requiring officers to be informally interviewed or "de-briefed" by an Internal Affairs investigator whenever a complaint is made against them involving use of force. The "debriefing" would establish how the officer got into the situation and whether or not they behaved appropriately.
In addition, officers whose arrest-to-force ratio exceeds their peers by more than three to one, or those who use force in more than 15 percent of their arrests will receive a review. Officers receiving two or more use-of-force complaints in a six-month period will also be reviewed using the bureau's early warning system.
The report also looked at why Central Precinct and TriMet (which polices the MAX) appear to be using more force than other divisions of the bureau.
"The report did not give us answers to that," says IPR Director Leslie Stevens. "But anecdotal reasons were put forward, such as different kinds of proactive livability missions being run in those areas—for example, to combat drug dealing."
Following the report, Stevens is going out with Central Precinct's Street Crimes Unit, which often uses force to detain drug dealers, so she can better understand the unit's work. Chief Sizer has also promised to try "broadening the strategies the bureau uses to control street level drug dealing, street disorder in the entertainment district at closing, and public order offenses," but as former Central Precinct commander, she says the environment poses unique challenges.
"In the entertainment district we are dealing with thousands of people every weekend whose decisions are well lubricated by alcohol," she tells the Mercury. "Given that dynamic, we are trying to develop tactics that are less likely to result in use of force."
Critics say the report did not go far enough, with Copwatch activist Dan Handelman asking why it did not look at racial disparities in the data.
"In this respect it was superficial," adds Alejandro Queral of the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center.
"I did not want to get mired in discussions that could not quickly and accurately be addressed within the time and budget of the report," responds Stevens. Sizer says the bureau's next use-of-force report will examine particular demographics.