Local police accountability group Portland Copwatch has released an analysis of the Independent Police Review Division's 2009 Annual Report, calling it "a mixed bag of useful and buried information, neutral reporting and public relations." The report is scheduled to be presented to City Council on Wednesday, June 30, at 6 p.m.
On the whole, the new report is geared less toward touting the IPR's statistics as achievements, a point PCW brought to attention in analyses of the 2007 and 2008 reports. There is less of an implication that the drop in complaints, use of force complaints, and officer involved shootings from 2007 to 2009 was the result of IPR's work. However, IPR ignored, for example, that only one of 27 cases investigated by the Internal Affairs Division was completed by the Bureau within the 5-month guideline. The report also continues to bump up certain statistics and trends--including the "sustain rate"--while leaving in the report's back pages information that the satisfaction rate with IPR has gone down while dissatisfaction has remained at 50 percent.
Below are highlights of Portland Copwatch's seven-page analysis of the Annual Report. The full analysis is available at their website, or upon request; the IPR report is available at their website.
NEUTRAL TONE SHOWS IPR CAPABLE OF OBJECTIVITY, BUT QUESTIONS REMAIN
IPR refrains from language used in past report that implied their work had led to changes in police behavior and complaints generated. This year's report states the facts, that the number of complaints "continued a downward trend ...from 771 in 2005 to 405 in 2009" (p.1) and that there was only one officer involved shooting and no deaths in custody in 2009, while "there were approximately eight shootings and/or deaths per year from 1997 through 2006." The neutral tone is welcome, since there is no way to know whether the scathing consultant's report issued in January,
2008 or other factors led to broader mistrust of IPR, or if the police are not committing as many acts of misconduct.
There is a downside to the neutrality, which is that by selectively choosing facts, the system appears to be functioning better than it really is.
For instance, the "Sustain rate," touted by IPR at "22 percent of cases fully investigated by the Police Bureau" ignores that only 37 percent of all complaints are turned over to the IAD, and that they only investigate 17 percent of those complaints (p. 14). Portland Copwatch's analysis, depending on the number you use for the overall pool of complaints, shows that between 2.8 percent and 8.1 percent of all complaints received one or more sustained findings, far less than 22 percent. The 22 percent number from IPR is the least deceiving since 2002: while in other years their "sustain rate" has been 12-16 times too high, this year it is only about 7 times too high.
PCW notes that "Service Improvement Opportunities" (SIOs) have climbed from being used by IAD 34-54 percent of the time in 2002-2006, to 51-60 percent 2007-2009 (p. 14). These minor complaints (which would be a better name for "Service Complaints" than "SIOs") are for violations of policy that normally do not rise to the level of discipline.
Disparate treatment, law enforcement treating someone differently or otherwise using race inappropriately in a police action, is one of the most serious offenses an officer can commit, yet only one racial profiling/disparate treatment case has been sustained since 2002 (in 2007). While the community might expect this behavior to result in discipline, ten racial profiling cases were handled as minor complaints/SIOs in 2009 (p. 14), and seven in 2008 (2008 p. 19).
SLIMMER REPORT, LESS INFORMATION
One result of the 2009 report being slimmed down is that some of the information that was previously discussed or presented in the body of the report is now buried in the appendix or missing from the publication.
This includes information about the combined rate of cases dismissed by IPR and declined by IAD, which would have shown this year that only 7.2 percent of cases received investigations, down from nearly 10 percent in recent years. In other words, the odds of a citizen's complaint getting an investigation went from about one in 10 to about one in 14.
The new report deletes multiple charts about the lack of timeliness of investigations, at the expense of any substantive acknowledgment that investigations take too long--only one of 27 cases was closed in the 5-month goal (p. 38). Just at IAD, 56 percent of investigations were not completed in the 10 week goal, and commanders are taking far too long to return proposed findings--only 18 percent came back within 90 days.
Other missing/under-analyzed information includes:
--How often there is not enough information to determine whether the officer or the complainant's version of facts is true; --How often Racial Profiling, Use of Force and other misconduct were alleged compared to other years; --How many case files opened by IPR based on preliminary lawsuits from the public led to IAD investigations; --What is happening at the Bureau's Use of Force Review Board, which reviews shootings, deaths in custody and uses of force leading to hospitalization for compliance with Bureau policies; and --How many complaints are filed in each precinct
DETAILS IN, DETAILS OUT
In a few places, the report does give details that more concretely demonstrate both the issues raised by complainants and the workings of the complaint system. In other areas, vague descriptions actually do disservice to the work of IPR and its Citizen Review Committee (CRC).
In a few places, IPR cites specific examples of complaints and how they were handled administratively, including one involving allegations of force and improper stop/search (p. 14) and one involving a violation of the Bureau's foot pursuit policy (p. 15). For the first time, IPR used the broadly known name of a person who died in police custody, in this instance, James Chasse [Jr] (p. 21).
On the other hand, for the first time, there are no details about the cases that were heard as appeals by the CRC, and a discussion of the Force Task Force's report does not specifically relate what recommendations the IPR and others on that group successfully made to the Bureau.
DISCIPLINE AND REPEAT OFFENDER OFFICERS
The IPR could do a better job reporting on officer discipline as well as officers who have received multiple complaints over time. A table on discipline imposed (p. 18) would be more meaningful if it described the actions for which the officers received time off, were terminated or resigned/retired. Answering questions for the community and Bureau members as to what kinds of serious misconduct lead to six officers leaving the force and 22 other officers receiving discipline could help increase trust and prevent future occurrences.
Along with other deficiencies on the section about officers with multiple complaints, one officer discussed in the new report received 14 Use of Force complaints in five years, and had two new complaints this year, even though the 2008 report says this officer was reassigned and subjected to a "behavior review" to reduce his/her use of force (2009 report, p. 20, 2008 report p. 31-32).
The IPR has sent out more surveys to people who used the system, refrained from using their previous dismissive tone about the outcomes, and yet failed in their goal of transparency by printing the survey results in the appendix rather than in the body of the report. Overall satisfaction has gone down, to 37 percent from 44 percent; dissatisfaction held steady at 50 percent. It cannot be overlooked that the IPR has never received over 50 percent satisfaction rate on its own survey, or in the more generally worded Auditor's survey (p. 34).
CORRECTING THE RECORD, RAISING QUESTIONS
In several places, the IPR Annual Report gives out misleading information that could give outsiders the wrong idea about what IPR and CRC actually do. The most glaring example are the two places (pages 3 & 7) where the report accurately states that IPR can conduct independent investigations, but fails to mention that this has never happened in 8-1/2 years.
The report also raises a number of questions, such as whether commendations are investigated for accuracy, why some information is not formally documented, and whether it makes sense for an officer's supervisor, whose proposed findings can be overturned by at least three other people, to have a vote on the Police Review Board.
For more information, contact Portland Copwatch at 503-236-3065, or go to http://www.portlandcopwatch.org .