THE PRESIDENT of Portland's rank-and-file police union—after lobbing his second stinging complaint in as many months last Wednesday, July 16—has apparently touched a nerve in the city's office of Independent Police Review (IPR).
Days after Daryl Turner sent the Portland Police Association's (PPA) members a message accusing IPR investigators of skirting rules for police interviews—by directly contacting officers with questions—he's confirmed that his latest missive has IPR Director Constantin Severe asking to sit down and clear the air.
At issue is when it's okay—if ever—for IPR investigators, who work under the city auditor's office, to directly contact cops.
Turner argues in his complaint that all questioning, in person or not, on matters small or large, must flow through the police bureau's internal affairs division and the PPA. Those rules are spelled out in city code, approved this year, and in longstanding language in the city's labor contract with the PPA.
Turner, as reported by the Oregonian, had already sent his members a message back in June accusing IPR staffers of incompetence and raising questions about IPR's newly emphasized right to conduct independent investigations. That led mostly to a spirited back-and-forth in the media.
But this time, after Severe strongly denied Turner's accusations in a statement, the office has found itself on the defensive. If slightly. Emails reviewed by the Mercury after Severe sent his statement—along with the looming threat of a labor grievance—suggest there's more substance to Turner's concerns than IPR initially acknowledged.
"We stand by our statements in our previous message to the members," Turner told the Mercury. "And we look forward to sitting down with Director Severe and IPR to discuss these matters."
Turner's message doesn't detail the case at the center of his complaint. But the Mercury has since confirmed, with details from Severe, that the case involved a cop who'd been accused of poorly driving the bureau's bomb rig. IPR investigator Judy Taylor, who has law enforcement experience, emailed both the officer and the officer's supervisor with questions. She ultimately wound up dismissing the complaint.
"It's unacceptable for IPR to have 'off-the-cuff' email requests and other direct communications with PPA members," Turner wrote.
Severe, in a statement emailed to the Mercury after he was asked to comment on Turner's complaint, initially offered a fairly straightforward denial of Turner's accusation. He also complained that Turner hadn't come to him with concerns before going public.
"The one area where IPR will contact an officer or a direct supervisor (usually through a brief email inquiry)," he wrote, "are in cases when a community member contacts IPR requesting property be returned that was taken as evidence in a criminal prosecution."
But a few days later, after the Mercury told Severe we had seen Taylor's emails to the cop, he walked that statement back. Severe also acknowledged Turner had sent him those messages before he issued his denial to the Mercury. He says he didn't see them, however, because they were included at the bottom of an email he hadn't finished scrolling through. (Turner had also sent his complaint to the city attorney's office on Monday, July 14.)
In an interview on Monday, July 21, Severe allowed that there were other circumstances when investigators might reach out to cops: in cases that aren't likely to result in discipline, even if the allegations are borne out.
Severe says the police bureau doesn't consider consequences for smaller misconduct cases—counseling or so-called "service-improvement opportunities"—as official discipline.
"I didn't think about that particular situation," he says. He offered the property-return scenario because, he says, there's a related case on his mind.
Not that Severe thinks his investigators are doing anything wrong. He said officers are free to ignore the emails, precisely because they're informal (although he argues that many cops don't, and that their cooperation usually helps the IPR dismiss cases).
He also says the PPA's labor protections for investigations come into play only when allegations are more serious—in that they "may reasonably result in the discipline of the officer," according to the PPA contract.
"There isn't anything that's different than what we've been doing for the last several years," Severe says.
It's not clear Turner will agree with Severe's reasoning. And now the two are looking to huddle. Again. Turner and Severe have met here and there over the past year, after IPR began pushing for new rules meant to more formally enshrine its right to conduct investigations without initial buy-in from the police bureau. Turner has complained about that expansion of civilian involvement in what he sees as a police discipline process.
Asked if there was ever a chance that something unearthed in a low-level investigation might trigger something more serious, lending credence to Turner's concerns, Severe said, "That hasn't happened yet."
But he also admitted it was possible.
"That's the part where I understand where the PPA is coming from," Severe says. "There's a way for us to come to an understanding without resorting to dueling press releases."