Portland cops shine the feds on
After being told by the federal government that its members are unnecessarily brutal, especially to mentally ill people, the Portland police bureau says it's responding. But it's the usual response -- mostly vague talk, a token gesture here and there, but not addressing the core problems much, if at all. Here's the official party line:
Crisis Intervention Team
Recently, Chief Mike Reese met with members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), as well as other mental health stakeholders and families whose loved ones struggle with mental illness. The group discussed how officers respond to these situations, which are complex and unfold quickly. Arriving officers most often do not know if the person is suffering from a medical problem, mental health issue, drug and alcohol issues, or some combination of two or more. With that in mind, the Chief is creating a Crisis Intervention Team - a volunteer specialized team.
Under this new model, the Police Bureau will continue training all officers in CIT, but we will also have a team of officers, who receive enhanced training to ensure they have consistent updates related to resources and mental health and addictions systems issues. These officers will continue to work their normal patrol duties, but can dispatched to a call in progress where mental health issues are the primary reason for the call. If no crisis calls are waiting, CIT Officers will perform their regular duties. In addition, these officers will work in coordination with the Mobile Crisis Unit to identify individuals in our community who have frequent police contact due to their mental health and/or addiction issues.
The internal bureau position announcement was posted on Monday and will involve officers currently working a uniform assignment. They will be selected after November 15, 2012.
Changes to Directives
The Bureau is also making changes to three Directives that involve force: Taser, Application of Force and Use of Deadly Force.
The Bureau already has a higher standard than the federal standard when it comes to use of force. But the Bureau aspires to continual improvement: These draft Directives are in response to the DOJ, but also contain changes that bring the Bureau in line with its current training as well as best practices in policing.
The Bureau is asking the community for feedback on all three draft Directives. After reading the directive, there is a place for community members to provide comments.
It sounds lovely, unless you've been following the issues closely, as O reporter Maxine Bernstein has done. She points out which aspects of the federal criticism are not being addressed, here:
The draft policies do not go as far as justice officials had sought in several areas. For example, federal officials urged the bureau to require officers involved in shootings to be interviewed immediately by detectives, instead of allowing a 48-hour wait after an incident.
The Justice Department also urged the city to restrict the number of Taser cycles an officer can fire at a suspect. The bureau did not adopt those standards in its draft policies but made other changes.
"These draft directives are in response to the DOJ, but also contain changes that bring the Bureau in line with its current training as well as best practices in policing," Reese said in a prepared statement.
Police union leaders and Multnomah County prosecutors said they discussed policy changes with Portland police in September, but they haven't had an opportunity to weigh into the written drafts until now.
Dan Handelman, of Portland Copwatch, said he was dismayed that the chief seems to be trying to get these policies in place, in order to avoid having the "DOJ direct them to make certain changes."
Despite the chief's request for public input, Handelman said, "it's more likely than not that they will put forward more moderate changes than the community demands."
One of the policies that really needs revisiting -- and which the bureau proposes to leave alone -- is the one about firing into an automobile as it is moving away from the officer. Portland police have fatally shot people in at least three such incidents in recent years, all prompting serious questions as to whether deadly force was really needed.
One reason for hard feelings in this area is that the governing policy is unworkable -- it makes no sense on the face of it. Here is how it reads (with the key sentence in bold, the emphasis added by us):
For the purposes of this policy, a moving vehicle itself shall not presumptively constitute a threat that justifies the member's use of deadly physical force. The member using deadly physical force must be able to clearly articulate the reason for the use of deadly physical force. Members shall not discharge a firearm at a person(s) in a moving vehicle unless one or both of the following criteria are met:
a. To counter an active threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or another person, by a person in the vehicle using means other than the vehicle.
b. There are no other means available at the time to avert or eliminate the threat.
Members threatened by an oncoming vehicle should attempt to move out of its path instead of discharging a firearm at it or any of its occupants.
It's that "one or both" language that's all screwed up. It gives the officer the right to fire in either of two situations -- "(a)" or "(b)." The problem is that (b) refers to (a) and makes no sense without reference to (a).
Either: (a) "To counter an active threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or another person, by a person in the vehicle using means other than the vehicle."
Or: (b) "There are no other means available at the time to avert or eliminate the threat."
What threat? The policy makes logical sense only if both (a) and (b) are present. But by its terms, it gives the officer the right to fire if "one or both" criteria are met.
If this were some obscure regulation about lunch reimbursements or cell phone use, bad drafting would be excusable. But this is literally about the life and death of unarmed residents. The fact that the basic standard of conduct is gibberish is a horrible statement about our city. And of course, there's no plan for meaningful reform.
There never is.