POLICE CHIEF Mike Reese—who's now spent more than three years atop a bureau struggling to escape a rap for circling the wagons during times of crisis—harps on the concept of "transparency" often enough that you figure he thinks he really means it.
Take his response to the latest report by an outside auditor finding lingering, unaddressed problems in the police bureau's response to officer-involved shootings, one of the most serious acts of potential misconduct and policy violations a police chief must weigh:
"The police bureau is committed to continuous improvement and complete transparency in how we investigate and analyze these incidents," he told Portland City Council in comments that were promptly posted to the internet.
But given a clear chance by the Mercury this month to once again prove his self-proclaimed commitment to "complete transparency," Reese is falling notably short.
After compiling a matrix earlier this year comparing discipline recommendations by the bureau's Police Review Board (PRB) to the discipline the chief actually meted out, Reese has so far dithered on a Mercury request for an updated comparison reflecting the latest release of redacted PRB reports.
"No sir. Working on it," police spokesman Sergeant Pete Simpson emailed on Monday, July 22, when I asked if an answer was nigh. Simpson, a week before, on July 15, said Reese was given my request and was strongly considering it.
He also explained that the original matrix was never meant to be updated. It was created at the request of Mayor Charlie Hales' office. That I obtained it was something of a fluke. At first, the bureau said such a thing didn't exist.
Mind you, this is no small issue. The PRB is an important step in misconduct and use-of-force probes. I asked for that matrix after an Oregonian story that Reese merely demoted a police captain, Todd Wyatt, whom the review board wanted to fire over charges including dishonesty and harassment. It led to reporting that Reese saved the jobs of two other cops targeted for dismissal because of lying ["To (Not) Tell the Truth," News, Feb 13].
The story also revealed that Reese pretty regularly freelances his own discipline, including taking it easy on controversial cop Kyle Nice (one of the cops in the beating death of James Chasse Jr.). The review board wanted to give Nice one to two weeks of suspension, plus anger management sessions, after a road rage incident where Nice pulled his gun. Reese gave him a letter of reprimand.
The bureau is obviously worried about privacy concerns. But most cases are redacted and don't include details, like with Nice and Wyatt, that are ripped straight from the headlines. Reese also is juggling opposition from the Portland Police Association, whose president, Daryl Turner, has written lengthy posts calling the PRB unfair.
But the bottom line is that Portlanders deserve to see how a police chief listens, or doesn't, to an advisory board that's important enough, in terms of accountability, for the US Department of Justice to highlight in its findings that the bureau routinely uses excessive force against the mentally ill.
And if Reese doesn't produce the information willingly, he might have to do it by force. Constantin Severe, director of the city's Independent Police Review office, is weighing an ordinance that would force the bureau to publish the kind of data the Mercury seeks.
"We need to do more for transparency," Severe says. "The public really does care about this and they care about what their police officers are doing."
Given Reese's own "commitment" to something as important as transparency, how can he disagree?