YOU GOTTA HAND IT to the federal government: It knows how to bury a lede.
Last week, the US Attorney's Office released its first real take on Portland's progress on federally mandated police reforms. (You'll remember we reached a settlement with the feds last year, after they sued Portland for letting cops beat up mentally ill people.)
If you look at the brief overview at the beginning of the report, things seem sort of hopeful. A little more than a year in, Portland's partially complying with the majority of provisions in the lengthy settlement, the US Department of Justice says. Police Chief Larry O'Dea and Mayor Charlie Hales even put out a news release about how pleased that made them.
Wade deeper into the report, though, and you'll see the details are far from cheerful. The document, at nearly a 100 pages, lays out many, many issues Portland has yet to address when it comes to better policing.
They're not small issues, either. "To no one's surprise, the areas we've had more concerns with have revolved around officer accountability and post-use-of-force reports," says Adrian Brown, an assistant US attorney who helped author the report.
Make it to page seven and you'll see that the city hasn't changed its rules around Taser use, as required, so that cops can only use multiple Tasers on a suspect simultaneously when they'd be justified in killing the suspect.
Flip a few more pages to find supervising officers aren't reacting to officer-involved shootings like the settlement says they're supposed to. And that officers still aren't expected to file required reports after shooting someone until days later—a facet of the city's collective bargaining agreement with rank-and-file officers that nonetheless violates the settlement.
Some other notable findings:
• The report found a worrying lack of awareness in officers' force reports. After cops shot a man who'd been cutting himself in May, an involved officer reported the man had no signs of mental health issues.
• There's potentially an even worse lack of self-awareness. In a January assessment, police claimed no training deficiencies related to "problematic use of force," the report notes, right after the Portland Police Bureau reached the federal settlement agreement about such problematic force, and was dinged in two separate court cases for inappropriately beating people up.
"Given the facts known about problematic uses of force under existing training," the report states, "this conclusion cannot be correct."
• While the report generally lauds the police bureau's efforts to better handle people in mental health crisis, it notes a lack of buy-in from local mental health providers. Those organizations had developed sub-committees to help encourage better partnerships, but have since disbanded them "for unknown reasons," the report says.
There's so much more, but you get the point. This city has a long way to go before we get to the type of policing officials have agreed to provide. While we should cheer the bureau for its efforts so far, no one should be blinded by quotes about "good work." This is very much a work in progress.
"The agreement is very clear on the floor the city must meet," says Brown, the assistant US attorney.
Then she notes something anyone who cares about better policing in this city should keep in mind: "The city can always do better than that floor. They have an opportunity to own this process."