The Independence Police Review just released its latest study of the Bias-Based Policing Workgroup's collection of Disparate Treatment Complaints.
The March 2010 report looks at a sampling of 36 complaints from July 2005 to June 2007, and gives a small snapshot of the way certain people viewed their police-citizen interactions. It says nothing about how the number of complaints – or the type of complaints – have changed in the last three years.
Director Mary Beth Baptista says although the data appears old, it was new when the original workgroup began their work in late 2007.
"It took a long time to get it into a report," she says.
The IPR is already looking at ways to expedite such reports such as this, by extending terms for members of the Citizens Review Committee and increasing the size of the group.
Overall, the report gives high marks to the way the Independent Police Review conducts intake complaints against police, although the workgroup says several intake interviewers "appeared to run out of patience" on a handful of occasions.
"However, there were concerns expressed that some intake summaries captured only a portion of the issues raised and were limited by the quality and style of the interview," the report stated.
As for police, the vast majority of complaints of bias and disparate treatment could be easily avoided. The report says that if officers were nicer – perhaps a bit less rude and insensitive – that the complaints would never have been lodged.
"In one example, after a run of a license came up clean – officers then reportedly made disparaging comments," according to the report. "A few times officers mentioned the criminal history of a person openly in public. The complainants (and reviewers) felt that there was little public safety benefit; and alleged that the intent of the officer(s) was to aggravate or embarrass."
Other sources of contention are the "pretext" stop and the "mere conversation" – seemingly soft tactics employed by officers that have long come under fire from civil liberties groups. Similar tactics have been widely utilized by police forces in other cities to increase arrests for minor crimes. Notably, in New York City, officers have stopped about 575,000 people in 2009 for "stop and frisks." Nearly 90 percent of these stops were of completely innocent people, and over 86 percent of stops were people of color. These stop and frisk policies are the product of the city's touted "broken windows" policy that reasons cracking down on small crimes leads to the suppression of more serious crime.
Recent audio recordings have surfaced that indicate New York police supervisors are systematically forcing officers and detectives to downgrade major crimes into minor ones, thereby skewing major crimes statistics.
In Portland, "the reviewers found that when some minority complainants were stopped for a minor traffic violation, like failure to signal more than a hundred feet before a turn, they expressed doubt they were actually stopped for the violation, and those complainants often assumed that race played a role in the stop."
Similarly, when Portland officers stopped people for mere conversations, which by law citizens are allowed to walk away from, reviewers found those stopped did not feel they had the legal standing to end the conversation and go on with their day.
Complaintants "felt that the officers were misrepresenting their identity, their evidence or probable cause, or the purpose of their conversation in the hopes of getting the complainant to disclose criminal activity."
The other complaints allege that officers didn't hand out business cards regularly and did not have a knack for the type of community policing that lends itself to treating the citizenry like customers of a service ultimately paid for by their tax dollars.
The business card policy has since been changed by former police chief Rosie Sizer, although the report doesn't review complaints new enough to know if this policy has been effective or not.
The report prompted the following recommendations:
• Officer training in the areas of cultural competency, courtesy, customer service, and communication with the public. Review the current PPB Training curriculum in these areas. Address questions regarding opportunities for continued education and training on these topics for officers through their career. Discuss the possibilities regarding additional or follow-up training for officers who generate a designated number of disparate treatment or similar complaints.
• Review the PPB policy on disclosing criminal histories. Educate/inform Workgroup members regarding policies, if any, regarding disclosure of a community member's personal information, including criminal history.
• Review the PPB policy on business cards. Reviewers felt that complaints would be reduced if officers were required to provide business cards routinely upon contact with the public. Discuss ideas regarding a more uniform strategy or policy regarding distribution of business cards.
• Minority communities and the Bureau. Educate / inform Workgroup members of the Bureau's current outreach efforts aimed towards building more healthy relationships with minority communities. Discuss ways in which CRC and IPR can assist in these efforts.
Areas of Workgroup member interest and potential research and follow-up:
• How patterns in larger samples of IPR and Bureau data could play a bigger role in understanding disparate treatment complaints. Understanding that disparate treatment allegations are difficult to prove individually, research other ways to utilize summary information, patterns, trends, and other Bureau data to reduce complaint volume.
• The issue of pretext stops and minority drivers/complainants. The Workgroup would like more in depth review of common issues surrounding 'pretext' stops.
Recommend that IPR:
• Revisit the tone its investigators use with the public and the messages presented in its communications with the community. Relatively small changes in the tone and approach of IPR could go a long way towards the office living up to the "Independent" part of its charter.
• Tighten up certain office procedures (e.g., audio file storage) and further develop office policies (e.g., giving legal advice, sharing police report information, explaining officer behavior). Office polices seemed unclear in a few minor, but important, areas.
• Provide more staff training. Training objectives should include enhanced listening and interviewing techniques, and increased consistency within IPR and between IPR and IAD. Pool resources with IAD for combined training when appropriate.
• Not oversimplify or consolidate allegations within a complaint. Reviewers expressed concern that sometimes not all allegations are individually listed and named.
• Take care in assigning and tracking Service Complaints. The service complaint process appears to be an effective intervention when it is an appropriate match for the concern raised and the supervisor and officer take the complaint seriously. IPR should take care in using this tool in only appropriate situations, be open to CRC audit and review of service complaints, and should track the supervisory handling and response.
• Take care to clarify and offer case-handling options, as in mediation. IPR Investigators should be consistent with explaining the process and its possible outcomes.
• Make use of soon-to-be-hired Outreach Coordinator's position and tasks. The Coordinator's role should include reaching-out and communicating with minority communities and building trust between the communities and IPR.
Recommend that CRC:
• Follow-up with IPR and track progress on the recommendations listed above. Also, task the Case Handling and/or IPR Structure Review Workgroups with providing additional direction on Service Complaint and Allegation concerns.
• Focus more attention on officer/community relationships, communication, and trust. Think of ways that CRC and IPR could help bridge the trust between minority communities and the Bureau, without compromising their effective oversight roles.
• Have a more consistent audit presence rather than simply reviewing cases that are appealed. CRC and its workgroups should engage in more regular, routine auditing of IPR case files, office policies/procedures, and case-handling decisions. The credibility of both groups would be enhanced.