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Thursday, June 7, 2012

48-hour cone of silence in Portland cop shootings has got to go

A couple of news stories have been floating around this week about killings of civilians by Portland police. First, a private outside review team came in and took a look at seven such incidents over the past decade. Their report contained a lot of the usual "changes are being made" pap, but it zeroed in on the key aspect of the investigations that follow a killing at the hands of the police: the 48-hour period of silence that immediately follows such an event. The officers involved in the shooting aren't interviewed by investigators for two full days after it happens, so that they have plenty of time to get their story straight.

It's an outrage, and the reviewers know it:

[I]n order to maintain community confidence in internal investigations, involved PPB personnel should be interviewed on the date of the incident... The reason for the 48-hour delay is the current labor agreements between the City and the Bureau officers’ bargaining units. As noted in further detail below, we believe that 48 hours is too long to wait for a statement from involved personnel and advocate for a restructuring of the labor agreements mandating the 48-hour delay....

[I]t is time for the Bureau and the City to end the 48-hour rule that exists in the current labor agreement so that full and contemporaneous accounts of these critical and sometimes controversial incidents can be obtained from the involved officers. In our view, the next time the labor contracts become due, July 1, 2013, the elimination of the 48-hour rule should be one of the primary objectives of any future collective bargaining.

No kidding.

Meanwhile, on a related front, police spokesman Robert King, himself an ex-police union president, is painted in a highly embarrassing light in this story involving the investigation into the senseless killing of the unarmed Aaron Campbell in January 2010. According to O reporter Maxine Bernstein, King, a lieutenant, broke down in tears and changed his own sworn testimony in the investigation. The current union wants this to result in reinstatement for Ron Frashour, the officer who shot Campbell in the back and got fired for it. We disagree, but we do think that King, who apparently killed not one but two civilians when he was working the streets, may need to retire soon.

Comments (12)

Glad to have you back running. I can take a cone of silence about this, but not from Jack Bog's Blog. Interesting that my computer's message when your server crashed was "Fatal Error."

It sounded scarier than it actually was.

There must be some creative way to bring attention to this sort of outrage. Like a "did you know?" brain teaser about 10 key differences between Portland and some other "desirable", (cough), city of its size. A checklist display of Portland's particular level of sickness in the ongoing legal affair known as: Public Employees Masters vs. the Subservient Plebe Public of Portlandia.

Will Aitchison, BTW, is the same character I personally witnessed at the opening of the last Police union contract negotiation in 2010, shortly after the Campbell shooting, declahater the outset that the meeting need not be open to the public. He followed up this breathtaking announcement with an offer for the union to finance holding the meeting privately at a certain downtown hotel, (whose labor was of the good sister and brother union variety, he was careful to point out...)

Gag. Where do they find these people?

Declahater= declare that. Autocorrect is such a hassle.

Does a law enforcement officer have a duty to promptly investigate any act that may be a crime? Especially if it is potentially a felony? Is this requirement somewhere in the ORS or police standards? Is the police union interfering with police officers (the investigators?) Could the Police union possibly be a law violator itself?

48 hours is way too long to let an officer think about what happened before he's asked any questions. It's way too long to let the matter go cold.

Instant, on-the-spot interrogations are only for bus and truck drivers in tears over accidental deaths and of course with eighteen TV cameras pointed at them while they're sobbing uncontrollably.

Police officers with a boost of testosterone? Naah, they need time for the Viagra to wear off.

While I agree that 48 hours is a long time, I cannot see any way around it. It has little to do with city policy or contracts, and much more to do with an individual's right to remain silent. If the officer involved in the shooting has any potential to be charged, he/she has the right not to speak until they confer with a lawyer. Sure, any collaboration to get a story straight is not only wrong, but likely illegal. But if forcing an early statement provides an exemption from ever using that information to prosecute wrongdoers, then I am not in favor of it. As I understand the law, it may.

Latest tactic of the Portland Police when reviews, audits and reports continue to find gross mismanagement is to announce they agree. The response, “We have already implemented the suggested changes.” No need to discuss further. Then the police continue unchanged

until they confer with a lawyer

That takes 2 hours, not 48.

Jack, at the risk of the usual thumping I take here when commenting on police matters, I can explain the reasoning for the delay in investigative interviews.

Police unions and their legal representation have sucessfully argued for such delay in critical incidents based on empirical studies conducted by the military and police on the effects of adrenaline regarding perception and memory.

These include, but are limited to: Increased heart rate, loss of gross and fine motor abilities, tunnel vision, auditory shutdown, time/spatial distortion. (An example of this in the popular culture is the beach scene in "Saving Pvt. Ryan.") The same studies show that these effects generally dissipate after 36-48 hrs.

This phenomenon has resulted in instances wherein officers have been accused of "changing their story" after secondary investigative interviews were conducted (and were different than the primary interview.) Numerous times in such instances, the officers secondary statements were shown to be most accurate by CSI technique and physical inspection/investigation of the scene.

I, myself, have experienced these effects when involved in a fatal shooting. I thought the street we were on was 30-40 feet wide - it was less than 20. I thought, after leaving my car, I had walked past 5-6 houses to the location of the shooting - it was 2. When the actual shooting ocurred I thought I was 20-30 feet away from the suspect - the distance was less than 15 feet. I though I was the only officer at the scene that had fired his weapon - two others also had.

And, I think somewhat mercifully, to this day I can not recall the face of the person I shot and killed. (Perhaps because I was being shot at at the time.)

Note should be taken that most agencies require a brief, basic interview so investigators know how to investigate the mechanics of the incident. You don't simply hand your service weapon to the responding detectives/CSI personell and say "You figure it out."

The problem is that the public's acceptance of the phenomenon, and the procedures to address it, are largely based on the relationship between an agency has with the citizens they serve.

Given the abysmal state of public relations with PPB, it should not be a surprise to anyone when detractors of the police label the delay as simply an opportunity for the officers involved to "get their stories straight." And, as I've stated here (many times) PPB's wounds are self-inflicted.

I have no notion on how to fix the the problem while maintaining the Civil Rights of the involved officers. However, it is obvious that changes have to be made in Portland to begin to restore the public trust.

Para 8, line 1 - delete the word "between".

I have zero respect for cops in this town.


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