Department of Justice Report on Portland Police Bureau
Civil rights, people with mental illness and racial profiling
By Helen Silvis Of The Skanner News
September 13, 2012Excerpts from the Department Justice report on Portland Police Bureau and Excessive use of Force
The use of force is an essential part of law enforcement; however, it must be guided by policy and limited by the protections of the United States Constitution. While most force used by officers in Portland is appropriate, we find reasonable cause to believe that PPB is engaging in a pattern or practice of using excessive force in encounters involving people with actual or perceived mental illness. The pattern or practice is manifested in the following ways:
(1) Encounters between PPB officers and persons with mental illness too frequently result in a use of force when force is unnecessary or in the use of a higher level of force than necessary or appropriate, up to and including deadly force. We found instances that support a pattern of dangerous uses of force against persons who posed little or no threat and who could not, as a result of their mental illness, comply with officers' commands. We also found that PPB employs practices that escalate the use of force where there were clear earlier junctures when the force could have been avoided or minimized. As described in greater detail below, examples of this use of excessive force include a December 2010 incident when multiple officers resorted to repeated closed-fist punches and repeated shocking of a subject who was to be placed on a mental health hold.
(2) In particular, we found that PPB officers use electronic control weapons ("ECWs" (commonly referred to as "Tasers")) in circumstances when ECW use is not justified or use ECWs multiple times when only a single use is justified, in encounters with people with actual or perceived mental illness. We found instances that support a pattern of officers using multiple cycles of shock without waiting between cycles to allow the suspect to comply, or officers failing to utilize control tactics during ECW cycles to properly affect handcuffing without having to resort to repeated ECW shocks. Examples detailed below include an August 2010 incident when an officer repeatedly shocked an unarmed, naked subject who, as it turned out, was experiencing a diabetic emergency.
(3) In effectuating an arrest, officers are permitted to use only the level of force reasonably necessary to accomplish a legitimate government objective; however, we found that PPB officers use more force than necessary in effectuating arrests for low level offenses involving people who are or appear to be in mental health crisis. As detailed below, this includes, for instance, a May 2011 incident in which an officer punched an unarmed subject at least seven times in the face when responding to a call to check on the man's well-being.
Noting that the concerns were exactly the same as those reported by the community in 2006, the report recommends that,
"Portland should consider reviewing the implementation of its 2009 PPB Plan to Address Racial Profiling. One of the recommendations that came out of listening sessions included more stringent collection of stop data, but PPB had concerns regarding public release of officer names. Data provided to us by a local watch group indicated that PPB disproportionately stops African Americans. The data indicates that 24 percent of PPBs traffic and pedestrian stops are of African Americans yet only 6.4 percent of the City’s overall percentage is African American.
Continuing to collect and track stop data would give PPB a better sense of whether a perception of biased policing might be a problem that PPB needs to address."