On Wednesday afternoon, the Council will be presenting the "Spirit of Diversity Awards" to the Portland Police Bureau and to the Independent Police Review Division's Outreach Coordinator Irene Konev. We publish a newsletter, the People's Police Report, which revels in political satire, so we can appreciate a joke. Unfortunately, we don't think you are joking.
But let's look at what the Portland Police Bureau has done in the year 2010 for diversity. Of the 6 people shot by police last year, two were African American, and all were in some kind of mental health crisis. And with the shooting of Jack Collins, they shot at least one homeless person.
I guess there's diversity in that not all of them were people of color?
Aaron Campbell was shot in the back and killed because the officer thought he was going for a gun, a suspicion often projected onto people of color but rarely on white suspects. Keaton Otis was pulled over because he "looked like a gang member," and ended up dead at the hands of the Gang Enforcement Team. Is it any wonder that people of color don't come forward to report to police about shootings within their communities?
The new Chief had the opportunity, when he reached outside the Bureau in July to appoint a civilian to an Assistant Chief position, to diversify his command staff, since there are no Commanders of color to promote.
Instead he chose his white friend with whom he plays in a rock band, and who had led the Portland Business Alliance, prompting the AMA Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, headed by African American community leaders, to call the appointment a "slap in the face."
Statistics for racial profiling in 2010 have not yet been released but the 2009 numbers show that the percentage of African Americans who were searched and found without contraband went up from 32 percent to 41 percent, and this while the Bureau was studying ways to improve its so-called "hit rate."
And while the hiring that just occurred may have improved the pool of officers of color, the Bureau still has less than 4 percent African American officers in a city that is 6 percent Black.
The committees and organizations that the Bureau lists as its proof of diversity, including its own internal advisory boards, have been around and communicating with the police for years.
So surely, this must be a joke.
Meanwhile, the Outreach Coordinator from IPR started 2010 by expressing concern that people coming to the Citizen Review Committee's first public outreach meeting in many years would "get out of hand." This was in early January before the Campbell shooting, when the forum was intended to focus mainly on the beating death of James Chasse. After the Campbell shooting she continued to insist that the CRC ensure there was adequate security at the meeting. When CRC continued to plan the event, the Outreach Coordinator joined the Auditor and the IPR staff in refusing to show up to the forum, at which dozens of people from the African American and mental health consumer communities came to testify about their concerns around police misconduct issues, and there was no outbreak requiring security.
The Outreach Coordinator's efforts to network with other groups is not a bad thing. However, as there is no report back as to what is being learned by contacting these groups, it is not making the issue of police accountability more transparent, nor is it encouraging communities who share concerns the ability to speak with one another.
The best way to know whether the Outreach Coordinator's work has resulted in championing diversity is to see how many more people of color come forward to file complaints, and whether their satisfaction with the process improves both via IPR's own surveys and word on the street. The IPR's 2010 report, which was published on May 24, shows no significant change in complaints from communities of color, but a relatively consistent percentage of White complainants (67-68 percent in 2006-2009, 66 percent in 2010). The award might be appropriate next year if the numbers change based on the Coordinator's reported efforts in various communities and languages and placing complaint forms in more convenient locations.
Portland Copwatch gives awards out from time to time in our newsletter to officers who "Do the Right Thing"-- refuse bad orders, resolve incidents without violence or blow the whistle on misconduct. But we tend to focus on a single action rather than saying that everything the officer does is something we support. The nature of these "Spirit of Diversity Awards" is to make it seem as if the City is commending everything the recipients have done with regard to diversity.
Please stop this public relations back-patting and gather input from the communities who are affected before giving out these awards.
Dan Handelman is the director of Portland Copwatch, a project of Peace and Justice Works. http://www.portlandcopwatch.org/