The office of the city auditor recently released its annual report detailing the efforts of the Independent Police Review, citing progress in the handling of police complaints.
The report gives an overview of the complaint process and IPR’s role. Highlights of the report include shorter resolution times for complaints, more independent investigations and fewer dismissed complaints compared to previous years -- 67 percent dismissed down from 76 percent in 2014.
But local police accountability advocates say the report is misleading and lacking analysis necessary for reform.
“I think it is inexcusable for a government agency that’s tasked with investigating complaints of police misconduct to be proud of … the significant numbers they don’t even bother to investigate,” said JoAnn Hardesty, president of the Portland Chapter of the NAACP.
Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch issued an analysis and response to the IPR report. The organization says there is faulty analysis behind the IPR report conclusions. For example, the IPR report states there were 11 cases with sustained allegations out of 62 IPR and administrative investigations. From these numbers, the report states that 18 percent of community complaints had merit.
However, in the Copwatch report, this number is challenged, saying that number should be based on the total number of complaints received, not the number that was investigated.
“That rate would be 2.8 percent of all cases (11 of 388), not 18 percent (11 of 62) as IPR indicates,” wrote Portland Copwatch in the response. “This means you're six times less likely to have your concerns validated than what IPR implies.”
City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero told The Skanner News that it would be inaccurate to include all complaints. Some had been dismissed for not having enough evidence or they were less serious allegations that were referred to supervisors, or were complaints that had jurisdiction errors, Hull Caballero said.
“Mr. Handelman’s methodology includes complaints against officers who do not work for the city of Portland,” Hull Caballero said. “IPR refers such complaints to the jurisdictions where the officers work. They count in our data as complaints that are dismissed. It would not be appropriate to consider them … when calculating the percentage of sustained allegations, because they never underwent that type of judgment.”
Hardesty says there is a larger story behind the complaints that do not get investigated. In some cases complainants cannot name the officers involved, because the officer would not give his or her business card or could not be otherwise identified.
Complaints from the homeless are more likely to be dismissed because of issues locating people to follow up, according to Hardesty.
“I believe that the most vulnerable people in our society are the ones who don’t get their cases investigated and don’t get their due process through this IPR process,” Hardesty said. She would like to see an audit of every complaint rejected over the past five years.
Few details about African American complaints
The IPR report found that African Americans filed 21 percent of the community complaints against police, but make up only 6 percent of the population in the city. This number is up from 2014 when Black community members filed 19 percent of the complaints, according to Portland Copwatch.
Hardesty believes the 21 percent complaint rate is fairly consistent with the disparate treatment statistics for the Black community in Portland. According to Portland Police Bureau 2013 traffic stop data, Black residents experienced 12.8 percent of traffic stops and were twice as likely to be searched than White residents.
Another criticism of the report is the lack of racial data. There is an IPR complaint category for disparate treatment, which is defined as an inappropriate action or statement based on characteristics such as race, sex, age or disability.
The report states that three percent of the complaints were because of disparate treatment, but there is no more information presented beyond that number. There is no demographic breakdown of the disparate treatment complaints, or any information as to whether the grievances were sustained or dismissed.
“When you look at the outcome of the IPR’s investigation, there is no analysis about whether or not the people who are stopped the most are actually getting justice when they come and file a complaint,” Hardesty said.
Police complaints are sustained more often
The IPR report tracks both complaints filed by community members and complaints filed by police employees against other police officers. The report stated that 18 percent of community complaints were sustained compared to 68 percent of officer complaints.
Portland Copwatch reports that this disparity shows an institutional pattern of believing officers over community members.
Hull Caballero says the information in the report is a snapshot of the last year compared with previous years data -- not an analysis of motives.
“It would not be appropriate for IPR to guess what drives a trend from one year to the next without researching the underlying causes, some of which may never be known,” Hull Caballero said.