PORTLAND'S POLICE UNION has filed a formal grievance alleging the police bureau's Use of Force and Performance Review Boards hearings are humiliating to its officers, and is urging all union members to not show up for the boards' hearings—which review an officer's proposed discipline—until its humiliation issues are resolved.
The grievance was filed on Monday, December 8, following a meeting of the Portland Police Association's (PPA) executive board on Friday, December 5.
PPA President Scott Westerman lays out his concerns about the boards in the current issue of the cop newsletter The Rap Sheet: "When our members are subjected to unprofessional questioning where the member is grilled, embarrassed, or berated by members of these boards, it is unacceptable," he writes.
The bureau's Use of Force and Performance Review Boards were established in 2004, following recommendations made in a report on use of force by the California-based Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC). Just two citizens appear on each board, alongside three "branch chiefs," two peer members, the review board coordinator, and a representative from the city attorney's office.
"What I oppose, is the calling of an officer to a board to answer questions that have already been answered three and sometimes four times," says Westerman. "The vast majority of officers who have been through these boards have felt they were presumed guilty prior to their appearance."
There are also concerns, despite the supposedly non-confrontational nature of the boards, that citizen members are asking unnecessarily confrontational questions, or simply questions that imply a lack of training in police procedure.
Westerman asked several officers to go on record with accounts of their experience at the review boards for this article, but all declined. However, they relayed their experiences through Westerman: "I felt attacked, and like the decision had been predetermined and nobody wanted to hear anything I wanted to say"; "Why do I have to relive this shit?" [after being asked about deadly use of force]; and "Nobody should be subjected to this kind of crap" [following a citizen grilling about a use of force that was found to be justified]. Another PPA member reportedly compared their experience before the boards to the Nuremberg Trials.
Police spokesman Brian Schmautz declined comment.
"I hope that they don't succeed with this [grievance]," says police accountability activist Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. "Our complaint, from the outside, has always been that these boards aren't open to the public, that the citizen members are sworn to secrecy, and that we never find out what the outcome has been. How is any of that humiliating to the officers involved? It's not even a transparent system, so it's discouraging that the police are complaining about it."