Portland Unhappy With Police Oversight System

A newly released independent study shows that Portlanders are ill-informed and distrustful of the city's system of police oversight.

From the Oregonian:

The public lacks confidence in Portland's system of police oversight, many residents don't even know how it works and the citizens involved in the process aren't allowed to use the powers they have, according to a study by an outside expert released Thursday.

A lack of transparency and community involvement in the process, as well as little or no public outreach, contributes to the widespread community dissatisfaction and a lack of trust that complaints about police misconduct are seriously addressed, according to the report.

The 186-page report, released by the mayor's office, was completed after a six-month study conducted by Eileen Luna-Firebaugh, a University of Arizona professor who previously worked for police oversight agencies in San Francisco and Berkeley.

The report notes that fewer complaints and appeals of police investigations have been filed in recent years:

Since 2002, a dwindling number of appeals have been heard by the citizen committee: from 24 in 2002 to one in 2006 and five in 2007.

Further, the rate of complaints sustained against police -- less than 1 percent from 2002 to 2006 -- is substantially lower than in other cities with similar oversight systems, the report found. City Auditor Gary Blackmer, who questioned some of the expert's analysis after seeing a draft report, has argued that isn't a good measure of the system's effectiveness.

The report found there were a number of cases in which police admitted to acts of misconduct during internal affairs investigations, or a failure to adhere to police policies, but the officers were not held accountable and a complaint was not sustained.

This occurs, the report noted, even though the IPR director has the authority to monitor internal affairs investigations and conduct separate independent investigations. [IPR Director Leslie] Stevens has never done a separate investigation.

The study makes some recommendations for strengthening the system:

The report recommends the city empower the citizen committee, allow it to hear requests for appeals directly and encourage it to be more active in shaping police policy. In the past six years, the study found that the citizen committee helped develop only three.

The report also found that the process lacks transparency -- IPR hasn't issued an annual report since 2004. The city still takes too long to investigate complaints, which should be handled within 10 weeks.

Blackmer said he hadn't read the full report, but when asked about the report's findings that the public is disillusioned with the system and that there's been little outreach, he said, "It's hard for me to understand how they got to those conclusions."

Read the rest. Discuss.

  • Gordon Morehouse (unverified)

    After watching this: http://www.truthnews.us/?p=1650

    I can't say I'm too rosy on the effectiveness of any current citizen review board. Then again, I think citizen review boards should be mandatory for every law enforcement agency from local to federal. Good luck of that happening any time soon.

  • (Show?)

    There is a deep history here, recent parts of which include former Mayor Katz and Gary Blackmer digging in to resist any substantive reforms to the review system. A key sentence comes when we see that the Committee cannot "hear requests for appeals directly." I.e. the Committee only considers cases that the bureaucrats allow it to here. Likewise, when it hears appeals, it is not allowed to seek new or further information. That's part of the significance of the IPR Director, who nominally can conduct independent investigations, not doing so. The effect is that the Committee only hears reports of the police investigating themselves.

    The current system is set up to protect the police and perhaps the city from lawsuits, not sure which is the priority. There have been some really ugly cases, one involving clearly excessive violence against an old woman, that have gone unredressed. The non-functionality of this system for actual review (or it's high functionality at preventing real review) contributes greatly to community distrust of the police when the higher profile cases of police shootings have arisen.

    It will be interesting to see if Tom Potter will take this up. Vera was a huge obstructionist; I believe Tom was elected partly because of his stance on community policing.

    <h2>However, even following the recommendations of this report is unlikely to affect a deeper underlying problem: the para-militarization of the PPB that went on under former Chief Mark Kroeker, with Vera Katz's backing.</h2>
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