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Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 18 September 2012

 Jo Ann Hardesty speaking at a rally to protest the reinstatement of Police Officer Ron Frashour who had been fired after shooting unarmed Aaron Campbell. The City paid out $1.2 million to Campbell's family

Former state legislator and police accountability advocate Jo Ann Hardesty (formerly Bowman) spoke to The Skanner News about the recently released US Department of Justice report that found Portland police have been violating the civil rights of people with mental illness by using excessive force.

What was your first reaction to the report?

It confirmed what the community has been saying for decades, which is that Portland Police Bureau has a pattern and practice of using excessive force against unarmed community members. And the community has been saying this for years and years and years. And so I was thrilled that we have confirmation now from the Department of Justice that these practices are in fact taking place, but more importantly that we now have the federal government as a partner in making sure that the fundamental changes that have to happen throughout PPB will take place.

What struck you about the cases it cites?

They cited some really egregious cases. For me, I knew it was bad within the Portland Police Bureau, but I had no idea that it ran from the top of the organization throughout the entire organization –so from the top all the way down to the street officer. This report shows that Portland Police officers have a practice of covering their butt – so that no matter what they do they're always found within policy. It was just horrifying, reading this report, to see how egregious and how thug-like some of the Portland police officers act. Some of the egregious examples that they mentioned, like the gentleman who was in diabetic shock and the police officer punched him in his face eight times with his fist. I was almost in tears when I was reading this.

Do you think fixing our mental health system will end the problem?

I think what we heard from Police Chief Mike Reese, what we heard from the mayor, and what we heard from Darryl Turner at the initial press conference was: "Oh, It's not the police officers; It's the mental health system. And if we fix the mental health system, and if we hire more officers, everything will be fine."

But anyone who has read the entire 42-page report will know that the problems are systemic within Portland Police Bureau. You find out that the problem is with the training; the problem is with how police officers are held accountable, because they are not held accountable. They refuse to investigate police officers; they do a poor job of gathering evidence; and the quote from the DOJ about the review process calls it: a self-defeating accountability system.

There's no oversight. There's no corrective action. And so the entire department has to go through some fundamental changes in order for the public to ever have confidence that we have the right people in the right job to provide public safety.

What did you learn from the report about police accountability?

What happens is that Portland police just rubber stamp: everything that a Portland police officer does is ok. And the chart that they showed about how a complaint goes through the internal process: no wonder that people don't file complaints. Because they know that the police don't do an effective job of investigating police misconduct. And what the DOJ report shows us is that, not only do they not do an effective job, but they go out of their way to cover up egregious behavior and to protect their own.

What can be done to fix these problems?

The letter of agreement is going to be signed by the City of Portland and the U.S. Department of Justice on October 12. That will spell out in detail – with timelines and measurable outcomes – when those changes start, when they have to be implemented. It will spell out a process whereby the community can take the City of Portland to federal court if those changes don't happen as the timeline demands.

Does the AMA have recommendations for the agreement?

I am currently working with the AMA coalition to submit recommendations that will be in the letter of agreement. One of the things that comes immediately to mind is that the entire police bureau has to be trained in cultural competency; the entire police bureau from the top to the bottom.

The new training facility: we have to rethink. In fact, I asked Mr. Perez, "What are the best practices? What are you looking for in a training officer, who actually trains officers on best practices in community policing?"

 I want that spelled out in a letter of agreement, because I don't think a Nazi sympathizer is an appropriate trainer for Portland Police officers. I think the police officers who are now training people to kill people if they don't follow orders: they are not people who should be in this new training facility in charge of training our police officers. What we need is a new kind of police officer – we need police who are willing to partner with community members to conduct the training.

What's the community's role in police training?

Until the federal government came in, the Portland Police Bureau has refused to allow civilians to be part of their training, to help develop the training protocol, to actually help them facilitate the training of new police officers.  Now, the Department of Justice has said they have to bring the community in. They can no longer just assume that Portland police officers are the only ones who can train Portland police officers. There are a lot of bright minds in our community that can help us train our police officers better.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Perez said that he believes the recommendations will help improve police relations with people with mental illness. But he said they also will help communities of color. Do you agree?

I think that some of the changes that they recommended – as they relate to people with mental illness—will improve community-police relations because they will fundamentally change how the police engage with people. However, the report made it really clear that they did not look at the racial impact of how police officers do their job. But they said it became apparent that there is a trust divide between the police bureau and the African American community, and they laid out a lot of recommendations on what the police bureau needs to do to correct that.

What important aspects of the report have received little attention?

They said that PPB needs to fully implement the plan to address racial profiling, which no one has talked about since police chief Rosie Sizer was fired. They said there needs to be cultural competency training throughout the entire police bureau.

They said that Portland police officers need to start tracking every single contact they have with the community members. The data collection numbers look horrible now –traffic and pedestrian stop data that is produced twice a year shows that if you're African American you're twice as likely to be stopped. If you're African American you're twice as likely to be searched.

If you're white, you're less likely to be stopped, you're less likely to be searched. But you're more likely to have drugs, guns and other paraphernalia.

What Portland police officers have refused to do, until now, is to collect data on "mere conversations." The call them walk and talks. But, in fact, the Department of Justice says that the mere conversations that the Portland Police use as a pretext to stop people and search them, and impact their constitutional rights to free movement, are unlawful. This is not a lawful action.

When people refuse to converse with the police then the police escalate the situation. And then it goes from being a mere conversation to a force issue. I think that when we start collecting that data the Department of Justice will be back doing another investigation on racial impact.

For them every problem requires a gun or force, and until they get it into their heads that community policing is about de-escalation, building relationships with community members: that's the problem.

We have police officers who have no relationships with the people they are sworn to protect and serve. If you don't know the community, if you don't know community kids, and that they are in the neighborhood they are supposed to be in, then you're assumption is that everybody is bad until they are proved to be otherwise.

What part will ordinary citizens play in making the recommendations work?

I think it would be a mistake to think that the fundamental changes that have to happen will happen quickly. But what I'm talking about is that the DOJ says there has to be oversight by a community group. What that means to me is that the community is in charge of the implementation. What that means to me is that a community group will be formed made up of all the people that the Department of Justice mentioned, like people of color, youth, people from mental health groups: so there will be this new committee that will be created that will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of that letter of agreement. And I am really excited about that because that means that the community will then get to call the police department in to find out how they are doing with the implementation.

We'll have access to information we've never had before. And as I said to Mr. Perez, the community needs resources to make that happen. We've been fighting the police for years, for free. And we're going to need the federal help, in order that we can put in place a modern day system that will truly hold the police accountable for the implementation of these significant changes as well as monitoring it to make sure that they are not circumventing the federal government's will.

Over the years, mayors and police chiefs have tried to fire officers for misconduct, but that has always been overturned. Can the report change that?

Mr. Perez found it egregious that police officers have 48 hours before they have to give an official statement, and many of the problems that the DOJ has found are currently in the police contract. But once the letter of agreement has been signed, these will not be negotiable issues in the next contract. Take the 48-hour rule, for example. When the police contract expires on June 30, 2013, they will no longer have a 48-hour rule.

So everything the DOJ has identified as a problem will no longer be a negotiable item. And what I love about that is that it really doesn't matter who the next police commissioner is. It really doesn't matter who the next police chief is. There will be limits to what is negotiable, and what isn't.

The arbitrator process is something we need to change so that bad police officers can, in fact, be fired. We're going to have to write into the letter of agreement.

Right now there is no internal system to actually discipline officers who have excessive force complaints – who are abusive to community members. Their internal system it takes six months to actually show up and it doesn't show up by officer name. So we're going to put more accountability into this letter of agreement.

Aaron Campbell was shot by police despite being unarmed. The department investigation showed poor communication between officers at the scene. Campbell was distraught over the death of his brother earlier that day and had been drinking and pondering suicide. The City paid $1.2 million in a settlement with his family.

How optimistic are you that this report will make a difference?

I've been working on this issue for over a decade, and this is our best opportunity to see real changes because we now have the federal court with us. The community now has the federal courts at our back. So that's the carrot and stick. The carrot is the letter of agreement. The stick is the federal court. So if they don't do what they need to do, we will take them to court over and over and over again to make it happen.
Read the full report here
  Read the Skanner News story about the report; DOJ: Portland Police Used Excessive Force against People with Mental Illness


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