Although the Portland Police Bureau is "excellent," according to the most recent report analyzing officer-involved shootings, the report's authors say the bureau still needs to undergo some changes.
Compiled by the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC), the 2006 "Officer-Involved Shootings and In-Custody Deaths" report, contracted by City Auditor Gary Blackmer's office, is the third city-commissioned look at police policy and procedure for officer-involved shootings since 2002.
The report issued a total of 16 new recommendations to the police bureau – compared with 89 from the 2003 report – all related to policy changes.
Police Chief Rosie Sizer said she saw the recommendations as a positive step forward.
"I concur with almost all the recommendations," Sizer said at a City Council meeting on Jan. 24.
Some of the recommendations include investigating the benefits of using the East County Major Crimes Team to investigate deadly force cases; making the names of private citizens on the Use of Force Review Board public; and conducting anonymous surveys of Force Board members to ensure a system free of police influence. Other recommendations deal with minor procedural changes in investigations, hearings and reporting. The full report can be accessed online at www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=144963
The report includes a total of 10 officer-involved shootings – five involving suspects with guns – and all but one took place before the original 2003 PARC report was issued.
After talking with police and their critics, the City Council discussed and accepted the report, which analyzed officer-involved shootings from February 2002 to October 2003.
Police spokesperson Brian Schmautz said the reports have helped change policy in a direction that attempts to reduce the frequency of officer-involved shootings.
"No police department in the country has been able to completely stop officer-involved shootings," he said. "There is no shooting we embrace. It's always devastating to the family, the officer and the community. Nobody wins when we have these shootings."
Many other policy changes have occurred in the years following these shootings.
The report lauds the creation of the Use of Force Review Board, which includes two private citizens who rotate out of a pool of 24. Keeping the identity of Force Board members private was done out of concern for their safety, Sizer said.
She added that there is a fear of retaliation from the public and that "concern is not invalid." Despite this fear, Sizer said the bureau is moving toward making the names of all 24 individuals on the board public, but will not release the names of the two rotating board members who sit on individual cases. The report recommended an anonymous survey to make sure citizen members felt open to express opinions critical of police.
Commissioner Sam Adams offered his criticism of the Use of Force Review Board, whose members are appointed by the police chief.
"I think it's a little odd that I'd be required to vote on nominations from the mayor to PDC and Planning Commission to do zoning and development work, but the review board for life and death issues is done by the bureau manager. It's a little odd to me, to say the least," Adams said.
There was concern among the report's authors that the East County Major Crimes Team was not providing an adequate level of investigation into deadly force cases. Sizer told city commissioners she plans to find out if the team needs more training or if the bureau needs to look to another agency to handle such investigations.
Investigation Methods Criticized
While the report did not reference intimate details or names of those involved in the shootings, it did offer some criticism of the incidents and the Portland Police Association's active involvement in one investigation. The report says the association's role could undermine the public's trust in the Internal Affairs investigation.
The Internal Affairs summary report on that particular investigation stated, "It was apparent that officers had influenced each other greatly. Similar phrases, descriptions and conclusions extended throughout their interviews. … This significantly impacted the investigation."
The Portland Police Association did not reply to The Skanner's requests for an interview. Sizer said the association's role did not reflect normal protocol and it would be a mistake to change the entire system based on one "rare exception."
The authors also criticized an incident resembling the May 5, 2003 Kendra James shooting, saying, "Without taking his own safety into account, an officer partially entered a car while seeking to extract the driver when it was predictable that the car would be put in gear."
James was shot during an early morning traffic stop when she attempted to drive away from the scene. Officer Scott McCollister was attempting to pull the unarmed woman out of the vehicle when he pulled the trigger, saying he feared he would be dragged underneath the vehicle. A grand jury did not bring an indictment in the case.
Portland Copwatch, a local watchdog organization, also released an analysis of the PARC report, calling on the police to follow recommendations, criticizing the report for not specifically referencing individual cases and not analyzing "why more people of color are shot at by police than their White counterparts," among others.
Dan Handelman, director of Portland Copwatch, also criticized the report's authors for saying that "none of the shootings appeared from the evidence in the file to be gratuitous" while also saying that "it was not only outside the scope of this review for PARC to reach conclusions as to whether the shootings were justified, but in many cases it would be impossible to make such a determination to a reasonable degree of certainty based solely upon the material in the files we reviewed."
Handelman, who testified before the City Council, said he was confused.
"I don't understand how you can make one judgment call and not another," he later told The Skanner.
Fewer Officer-Involved Shootings
Despite some of these concerns, Blackmer, whose office supervises the Independent Police Review Division and the Citizen Review Committee, said he is confident the reports and the subsequent policy changes have played a key role in reducing the number of officer-involved shootings.
"We are now having fewer shooting incidents," he said.
Because of this, Blackmer will bring a request to the council to reduce the frequency of the reports from once a year to once every two years. Shootings have shown a slight decrease in the years since the first PARC report — there were only five shootings in 2006, eight in 2005, four in 2004 and four in 2003, compared with an average of nine shootings a year from 1998 to 2002, according to figures from the auditor's office and Portland CopWatch. According to Schmautz, the increased use of tasers, as well as crisis training, has also led to the decline.
Handelman said he believes the decrease in shootings from one year to the next is arbitrary and the move to two-year reports will cause an increase in the time between a shooting and outside analysis — a time period Handelman says is already too long. The CopWatch director questions if other deaths could have been avoided if recommendations had come sooner.
Blackmer said the policy review needs to be done outside of the tension, emotion and immediate investigation of a shooting. Because the report is intended to evaluate police policy in regards to a number of shootings — not individual cases — and since the number of office-involved shootings has decreased, Blackmer said the report will be more effective over a two-year time span.
Race Remains a Factor
Despite receiving scant attention in the report, the issue of race played a prominent role in the discussion between city commissioners, the police bureau representatives and Blackmer.
The authors of the report declined to comment on the issue saying, "Whether subconscious factors played any role in shaping any of these officers' perceptions of danger or threat is impossible to say. Speculation on that point would serve no useful purpose."
Commissioner Randy Leonard, who grew up in Portland's African American neighborhoods, said while he didn't think overt racism was a problem among Portland's police, he asked if there was not evidence suggesting officers reacted differently based on race.
Referencing the recent formation of the Racial Profiling Committee, which held its first meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 30, Leonard, Adams and Potter asked if something couldn't be done to raise cultural awareness.
"Is there not a diagnostic tool we could develop about race perceptions, gender perceptions and sexual orientation perceptions?" Adams asked.