One urges a delay in rolling out the new weapons and the other demands answers over what looks like a stall in further (and long-promised) efforts to strengthen public oversight of cops.
In the first missive, the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform issued a strongly worded letter to top city officials urging the mayor to hold off on the new weapons—especially a Taser shotgun and longer Taser barbs—until the police bureau rethinks whether it needs the weapons and tightens its rules for when the devices could be used.
Bureau officials are turning to the weapons after nine cop shootings since January, including several in which their current Tasers didn't work. But advocates have several concerns about a Taser expansion: They point to a pair of high-profile settlements paid recently after officers Tasered people who were on their knees, in one case without required warning.
That defies current policy, which says generally that Tasers should be used only when an officer thinks someone is about to become a threat. But advocates say even that standard is too low. They want Portland to hew closer to national guidelines that allow Taser use only when someone is actively resisting, a recommendation that emerged in a city audit on Tasers last year.
The AMA coalition also worries that the new weapons are untested and dangerous. The new barbs, at a half-inch vs. a third of an inch, could lead to more wounds. And shotgun's shock cycle amounts to 20 seconds of 50,000 volts coursing through someone's body—four times as long as the basic cycle with a regular Taser. A British police force recently got into some scandal for deploying the weapons before the government decided they'd been sufficiently tested.
Update 5:15 PM: Adams' spokeswoman, Amy Ruiz, phoned back this afternoon with the mayor's response: The mayor will be reviewing the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform's concerns regarding Taser policy, and he looks forward to discussing this issue with the AMA in the coming weeks."
Hit the jump for the AMA's letter (it'll be at the bottom) and to read more about oversight concerns.
The second letter was sent by Portland Copwatch, which accuses the council of twiddling its thumbs when it comes to a report submitted by a stakeholder group last year on how to give more power to the Citizens Review Committee and the Independent Police Review Division. That effort launched from changes last year that created a new Police Review Board to handle internal investigations of misconduct and also gave subpoena power to the IPR.
Many advocates say the CRC, where citizens can appeal Police Review Board findings, should be able to consider new evidence when making a finding, not just evidence presented during the PRB hearing. City auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade and Police Chief Mike Reese disagree.
The council, in accepting the report last fall, made noises it would parse through some potentially conflicting recommendations earlier this year. But since then it's been utterly silent.
"When will the promise of the Stakeholder Committee be fulfilled?" Dan Handelman of Copwatch asks.
Click here for a copy of Copwatch's very wonky letter. Below is the AMA's letter.
Dear Portland Police Chief Mike Reese, Mayor Adams, City Commissioners and
the Independent Police Review Division,
In light of recent high-profile cases including use of Tasers, the AMA
Coalition for Justice and Police Reform respectfully requests that
Portland's policies on Tasers be re-evaluated and tightened. Moreover, we
feel an urgent need for the City to delay the Bureau's announced plans to
buy advanced Taser Weaponry.
*1) Abuse of Current Taser Use Policy:*
As recent events have demonstrated, PPB officers have been far too eager to
use Tasers as a weapon for compliance, rather than the purpose for which as
they were intended: as a last resort to using deadly force. We strongly
believe that Taser use must be prohibited if a person's only resistance to
police is that they fail to follow orders, and they are not posing an
immediate physical threat.
While this is currently the policy, it is being ignored. In addition to the
various incidents in the news of late, the City's two "Use of Force Reports"
reveal that 18% of cases involving Tasers use were used against subjects who
merely failed to comply. This demonstrates that the policy is not clear. It
appears officers are not held accountable for violating this policy.
This proposal is in line with the 9th Circuit Court ruling in Bryan v.
McPherson and is a logical extension of the community demands we shared with
the Chief and the Mayor/Police commissioner last year.
In brief, those demands ask that:
- All less lethal weaponry be re-evaluated for effectiveness, safety and
- Taser use should be limited to one discharge cycle by only one officer
- Officers must be trained to de-escalate situations and use the least
force possible (2.1)
In addition, Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) guidelines should be
followed in (a) disallowing any Taser use unless a person is actively
resisting or about to harm someone, (b) disallowing Taser use unless a
warning has been given, and (c) requiring medical attention after every
*2) The new Taser X-REP shotgun devices and longer X-26 Taser barbs are
untested and may even constitute a form of torture as defined by the United
Nations Committee on Torture:**
The AMA Coalition for Justice & Police Accountability is deeply concerned
about the recent purchase by the City of one X-REP Taser Shotgun and its
intention to buy cartridges for the hand-held X-26 Tasers with longer
With regards to the X-REP projectile shotgun:
a) the projectile is tipped with four sharp prongs that stick into a subject
with the impact of a baseball line drive;
b) the current released by the X-REP lasts 20 seconds, four times longer
than the hand-held model; and
c) the X-REP releases a wire that is designed to make the suspect grasp onto
it, generating another shock through his or her own actions,
and with regard to the X-26 devices:
a) the new 1/2 inch probes may dig deep enough under the skin to hit blood
vessels or bones; and
b) the Bureau is not planning to retain the shorter 1/3 inch probes for
incidents in which suspects are not dressed in heavy clothing.
Therefore, we share the UN Committee on Torture's concerns that:
- "The use of these weapons causes severe pain constituting a form of
- "In some cases [these weapons] may even cause death"; and
- "The impact of [Tasers] on the physical and mental state of targeted
persons would appear to violate articles 1 and 16 [of the UN Convention on
Torture]." (see footnote)
We urge the Council not to approve the purchase of these new weapons at
least until there has been a full discussion between the community and the
Bureau about their potential dangers and possible alternatives.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration on our urgent concerns.
Albina Ministerial Alliance for Justice and Police Reform
footnote: U.N. Committee Against Torture, "Consideration of Reports
Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention"; 39th
Session, UN Doc. CAT/C/PRT/CO/4 (February 2008).