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Doug Brown

The Portland Police Bureau's relationship with the public is fraught.

For those who've been following the recent community meetings, tense city hall press conferences, and numerous fatal encounters with Portland officers, this should come as no surprise.

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However, the city now has numbers to support this assumption.

On Tuesday, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) released a 52-page document outlining the public and police officer perceptions of the PPB's role in Portland, based on a series of surveys, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and public meetings. The report, conducted by an outside consultant, was created to inform the police bureau's five-year strategic plan—a new roadmap for the bureau that PPB's expected to release sometime before May. Here are the major takeaways from the wide-reaching report:

Communities of color deeply distrust Portland police:

A whopping 73 percent of all community members surveyed believe that the PPB "considers race and ethnicity when enforcing the law." Eighty-five percent of African Americans who were surveyed believe PPB policies are only fair and effective sometimes, if at all.

Twenty five percent of African American surveyed feel "comfortable and safe" interacting with Portland officers. And 38 percent of surveyed African Americans "do not trust the police at all." That number grows to 45 percent among American Indian Portlanders surveyed.

Even those inside the police department believe race plays a discriminatory role in their job—the report found that 48 percent of surveyed officers believe race influences the way an employee is treated.

Police aren't able to genuinely engage with members of the public:

Due to a perceived (and real) challenge to recruit new police officers to fill vacant positions, Portland officers don't feel like they are able to adequately meet the public's community engagement standards—like attending community meetings or introducing themselves to neighbors in their service area. According to the report, 84 percent of community members say their experience with PPB officers participating in "authentic community engagement" is limited. And what little exists seems forced.

The report includes this unattributed quote from a surveyed community member: "Community engagement in Portland is a public relations effort, not a priority. It’s not authentic. You have to listen.”

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Portland Police Bureau

Community members noted that police officers' "militarized appearance" dissuades the public from interacting with officers in more casual settings. The report identified that, among community members, the "top barrier" to creating an effective police force is excessive use of force.

The system in which PPB operates undermines progress and accountability:

Only half of PPB officers say they are not afraid to hold their organization accountable. (The other half is unsure or disagrees.) And 46 percent of surveyed officers believe "change is not possible at PPB."

The public can sense this vague unease. "The community believes accountability in the PPB is lacking, demonstrated by a perception of tolerance for bias and racism, past union decisions, and a lack of transparency in disciplinary action and decision making," the report reads.

Police are unclear about the role they're expected to play in Portland:

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Portland Police Bureau

Thirty percent of PPB officers surveyed found the bureau's "organizational goals unclear. "Interpretation of certain policies and procedures varies across leadership," the report reads.

Out of caution, it appears officers are simply avoiding confrontation that could clash with bureau policies or take them to court. Some 95 percent of all officers are "less willing to stop and question people who seem suspicious," because of the critical public perception around local policing.

Analysts say this could be linked to unstable or unsupportive leadership within the bureau. "Leadership consistency - their vision, their focus, their voice – has a tremendous impact on the effectiveness of organizational operations," the report reads.


Politics get in the way of meaningful reform:

"PPB and city leadership, as it relates to Police Bureau issues, are seen as making decisions based on the best interests of politics, rather than the best interest of the PPB and Portland’s community members," reads the report.

Analysts use Portland's houseless crisis to illustrate this problem. "Without the political will to comprehensively address Portland’s houseless crisis, the PPB will continue to serve as first responders to Portland’s houseless community," the report reads. "This role as first responder requires a different skill set than is currently recruited and trained for."

Officers also see politics taking a role in the basic training they receive. "Some officers believe that important trainings on shoot/don’t shoot scenarios and non-lethal force have taken a back seat to de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training due to political and community pressures."

While officers say they see value in these prioritized trainings, they're worried that they won't be prepared for basic, but critical, scenarios.

The report also points to growing tensions between the police bureau and mayor's office, which is often amplified by statements made by the Portland Police Association, PPB's union.

"There is a perceived conflict of interest given the city’s leadership structure and the Mayor’s position as the [Police] Commissioner," the report finds. "Even when the community and PPB staff align on changes, the labor union can, at times, undermine these changes, limiting the ability for progress in certain areas."

Police don't have the resources they need to adequately address the city's mental health needs:

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Ninety-two percent of officers believe "effectively responding to mental health calls" is a priority for the PPB, but few think the bureau has the capacity to do so. While 63 percent of officers believe PPB's mental health crisis response unit (Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team) can be effective at resolving a mental health-related emergency, officers don't think the bureau has enough tools to help people in crisis.

A quote from an anonymous surveyed officer: "I don’t have the resources to fix the problem. I don’t have a hospital to take them to or resources to give them."

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Portland Police Bureau

Police aren't receiving crucial behavior health care:

Over half of PPB officers surveyed said that they are "burnt out, frustrated, and emotionally exhausted" by their work. Few feel comfortable talking about it with their supervisor, though.

"The internal culture at PPB is not aligned with effective officer wellness and wellness is not prioritized," the report finds "Some officers and professional staff believe that there is a stigma against coming forward with wellness concerns."

Community members aren't thrilled local cops—who are often the first called to respond to a mental health crisis—aren't getting the mental health care they need.

A quote from an unnamed community members: “Officers also need ongoing and compulsory mental health care for themselves as members of an inherently stressful workplace."

The public sees police as as the "other"—and vice-versa:

Portland police are considered community "outsiders" by 71 percent of the surveyed community members. (Technically, this is true. Only 18 percent of Portland police live within the city's limits). The majority of the community believes that the PPB don’t always have "the best interest of the communities they serve in mind."

PPB officers feel equally misunderstood. Ninety-one percent of surveyed officers don't believe the public understands "what it means to be a cop."

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