Portland police fail to learn from past mistakes in officer-involved shootings, review says

Will They Ever Learn? Report on Cop Shooting Investigations Finds “Room for Improvement”

Portland Mercury, June 27, 2012

The day after the city released an outside analysis of seven police shootings since 2004—a report that raised significant concerns about the Portland Police Bureau’s ability to learn from its mistakes—the bureau’s official response didn’t inspire much confidence.

Instead of acknowledging the basic theme of the report—that “there is still room for improvement” in how the bureau trains its officers to avoid shootings, and then in how it analyzes shootings when they inevitably happen — Chief Mike Reese‘s office sent out a news release with a congratulatory headline.

It said, simply, “PPB Superior.” And it was an attempt to spin attention toward one of the report’s few pure compliments: that the bureau is better than most when it comes to reviewing errors. But after a detailed review of the 90-plus-page report, prepared by the Los Angeles County Office of Independent Review (OIR), a far bleaker picture emerges.

READReport to the City of Portland on Portland Police Bureau Officer-Involved Shootings, First Report, May 2012 (PDF, 983.5KB)

While the bureau might be trying to improve, communication lapses at shooting scenes, training issues, investigative shortfalls, and long delays in interviewing officers involved in shootings remain very real problems that have yet to be adequately addressed.

“Many of these events raise questions about officers’ ability to communicate with each other at the scene of critical incidents, to consider alternative plans, and to respond quickly and effectively when a subject has been downed by police gunfire,” the report’s authors write. “In some cases, [the bureau’s] evolution is notable and commendable. Others lead us—and members of the public—to question why the bureau had not learned more from its prior shooting incidents.”

The OIR report, expected to be the first in a series, focuses on seven shootings from 2004 through 2010, most of which involved someone enduring a mental health crisis: James Jahar Perez in 2004; Raymond Gwerder, 2005; Jerry Goins, 2006; Lesley Stewart, 2007; Jason Spoor, 2008; Aaron Campbell, 2010; and Jack Dale Collins, 2010.

OIR lays out a series of recommendations meant to address its concerns, with some more controversial than others.

High on that list is a call to stop giving officers 48 hours after a shooting before internal affairs investigators can sit down with them. That change would require renegotiating labor contracts with the city’s two police unions, the Portland Police Association (PPA) and the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association (PPCOA).

While that wouldn’t affect the cops who actually fire shots—as criminal suspects, they’d still be able to claim Fifth Amendment protection to get out of an internal affairs interview—it would affect all the other officers on scene at a shooting and defuse any concerns about cops getting together to get their stories straight.

“This circumstance is unfortunate,” the report says of the delay. “Public confidence in internal police investigations would be enhanced if involved officers would agree to be interviewed on the date of the incident.”

Both union contracts come up for renewal next year—and, significantly, both of Portland’s mayoral candidates tell the Mercury that if they win the job, and become police commissioner, they’d be willing to consider the change.

“The 48-hour rule is one of the most obvious changes I’m interested in making,” says former City Commissioner Charlie Hales. “I have not heard and have difficulty imagining an argument for why [the delay] is a good idea.”

State Representative Jefferson Smith, who’s been endorsed by the PPA and received, as of last month, $10,000 from the PPA’s political action committee, was more nuanced.

“It should be a matter for negotiation,” says Smith, who also wants to look at what other cities are doing. “I want to be tutored less by politics and more by the facts.”

Later, the report rips the bureau over “a central shortcoming” in its post-shooting reviews: “the reluctance” by its training division “to second guess an officer’s split-second decisions in the field.” The report says the bureau considered whether it was even okay to use deadly force just once, in the Campbell shooting.

“To decline to delve into the possible reasons why an officer mistook one action for another is to turn away from this subject matter when its examination is most vital,” the report says.

Other recommendations include adding explicit limits on officers’ use of Tasers and, because “the bureau continues to be stymied” by communication gaffes, a call to train all officers on “critical incident” management.

But not all accountability advocates are bullish on the findings.

“Our people paid a high premium for a mix of public relations advice and common sense,” says Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland. “There’s no recommendation that would have stopped Jack Collins or Raymond Gwerder or Aaron Campbell from being killed.”

Portland police fail to learn from past mistakes in officer-involved shootings, review says
The Oregonian, May 31, 2012

READReport to the City of Portland on Portland Police Bureau Officer-Involved Shootings, First Report, May 2012 (PDF, 983.5KB)

Outside consultants who reviewed seven Portland officer-involved shootings between 2004 and 2010 found many of the same tactical and communication problems that have plagued local police for more than a decade.

The California-based consultants from the Office of Independent Review Group identified communication gaps among officers at the scene, excessive delays in getting medical care to wounded suspects, the failure of AR-15 rifle operators to use earpieces to monitor radio talk, long waits to interview involved officers and a reluctance by the training division to second-guess officers’ actions.

The consultants called on the Portland Police Bureau to end a 48-hour rule now in place with the union that allows officers to wait two days before answering investigators’ questions. Over the past 20 years, no Portland officer who has used deadly force has ever agreed to give a voluntary statement on the day of the shooting.

“This circumstance is unfortunate,” the consultants wrote. “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.”

The consultants reviewed the shootings of James Jahar Perez, March 2004; Raymond Gwerder, November 2005; Jerry Goins, July 2006; Lesley Stewart, August 2007; Jason Spoor, May 2008; Aaron Campbell, January 2010; and Jack Dale Collins, March 2010.

Jerry Goins, for example, was shot by police as he walked up to his ex-girlfriend’s job with a gun, but then-Acting Sgt. Rich Steinbronn wasn’t interviewed until seven days after he shot Goins. The reason given at the time: His lawyer wasn’t available, the report shows.

The Police Bureau is seeking a compromise, moving to have officers provide an on-scene “public safety statement” that would give supervisors crucial details on who was injured, whether any suspects are at large and where bullets went. But the consultants said that wouldn’t rectify the problem because such statements don’t provide full accounts of what happened.

The consultants, hired by the city, also found the bureau has failed to learn from past mistakes.

Communication failures led to Officer Leo Besner‘s 2005 fatal sniper shooting of Raymond Gwerder, who was hit in the back while still on the phone with police hostage negotiators. After the shooting, the bureau — as well as independent reviewers — instructed AR-15 rifle operators to wear a radio earpiece to ensure they kept up with developing information at the scene.

Yet two years later, Officer Stephanie Rabey didn’t have her earpiece in when she fired one round from her AR-15 through the open bedroom window of Lesley Stewart’s house, injuring him with shattered bullet fragments. She also failed to communicate to other officers that she felt they were in a vulnerable position and she’d have to use deadly force if the suspect inside had a gun, the report found. Rabey told investigators she believed Stewart was reaching for a weapon in his bedroom closet. Police later found a gun in a car associated with him outside the house.

More recently, in the January 2010 shooting of Aaron Campbell, Officer Ronald Frashour wasn’t wearing his earpiece when he fired a single round from his AR-15 rifle, striking Campbell in the back and killing him.

The consultants also reported significant delays in police providing medical care to people wounded by officers.

They faulted the bureau for not following one of its own recommendations after the May 13, 2008, shooting of Jason Spoor, who came out of a Northeast Glisan Street house with a gun and refused orders to drop it. Spoor died from a single gunshot to the head after Officers Timothy Bacon and Scott McCollister fired at him.

Police reached Spoor within 15 minutes of the shooting, by taking what some officers “considered to be an unnecessarily high level of risk” because they didn’t know if he was dead, the report said. A Use of Force Review Board at the time of the 2008 shooting recommended the bureau place ballistic shields in supervisors’ cars to allow officers to safely approach a wounded suspect.

The Los Angeles-based Police Assessment Resource Center, which reviewed Portland police shootings between 2002 and 2005, also “repeatedly expressed concerns” about such delays.

But the bureau didn’t address those concerns until after the fatal Campbell shooting two years ago. Officers waited 38 minutes to check Campbell’s vital signs even though police at the scene had noticed no movement by Campbell after he was shot and a police dog bit him.

Within a month of the Campbell shooting, all sergeants’ cars were equipped with ballistic shields, and within three months, all officers received four hours of training on how to safely approach injured suspects who may be armed.

“This is a positive development, but it is fair to question why this incident sparked change when so many prior ones did not,” the new report said.

In the Goins’ case, for example, it took officers 35 minutes to check on his injuries after police shot him in the abdomen and Goins then shot himself in the head. He died at the scene.

The consultants echoed a past PARC review recommendation that the bureau limit its use of the east Multnomah County major crimes task force to help in the investigation of Portland police-involved shootings.

The task force officers who come from other police agencies aren’t familiar with Portland police policies, and training, and are “ill-equipped” to participate, the consultants said. In the James Jahar Perez shooting, east county investigators seemed to be reading from a script or used leading questions, the report said.

In the Campbell shooting, some task force members “lacked familiarity with the incident and the location in a way that impacted the quality of the interviews,” the consultants said.

While the consultants applauded an internal police review of the Campbell shooting that led to Frashour’s firing, they cited an overall “reluctance to second guess an officer’s split-second decisions in the field” in the analyses of shootings by the bureau’s training division.

They cited cases that revealed a “marked reluctance to examine the fundamental question of when to use deadly force and whether alternative tactical choices might have avoided deadly force.”

The consultants will present their findings and recommendations to City Council at 2:45 p.m. next Wednesday in the second-floor auditorium of the Portland Building.

City Releases Outside Report on Police Shootings

From The Portland Mercury, May 30, 2012

The city auditor’s office this afternoon released the first in what’s expected to be a series of reports, by Los Angeles County’s Office of Independent Review (OIR), looking at Portland police shootings dating all the way back to 2004.

The city gave OIR, a respected police watchdog that previously reviewed the beating death of James Chasse Jr., a three-year contract last spring.

The inaugural report focuses on seven shootings so far, all of them involving someone in a mental health crisis: James Jahar Perez — March 2004; Raymond Gwerder — November 2005; Jerry Goins — July 2006; Lesley Stewart — August 2007; Jason Spoor — May 2008; Aaron Campbell — January 2010; Jack Dale Collins — March 2010.

And one headline?

    Many of these events raise questions about officers’ ability to communicate with each other at the scene of critical incidents, to consider alternative plans, and to respond quickly and effectively when a subject has been downed by police gunfire. The benefit of reviewing multiple incidents occurring over time is that it provides a snapshot of the Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) policies and training as they evolved in response to each incident. In some cases, this evolution is notable and commendable. Others lead us—and members of the public—to question why the Bureau had not learned more from its prior shooting incidents.

I’ll have more to say about the 90-plus-page report in awhile, but go ahead and read the findings here.

Here’s the rest of what sticks out after a quick scan: One finding is that while our police bureau is “superior” to most when it comes to learning from mistakes and enduring outside review—something I don’t think we should lose sight of—”there is still room for improvement.”

As such, the report contains a series of recommendations on improving cops’ training and tactics, some of which we’ve heard in various other reports and reviews: giving all officers access to “critical incident” teaching, restricting use of Tasers, expanding the reach of the bureau’s mobile crisis unit, and filtering decisions on discipline through the lens of the “crisis intervention training” all officers receive.

Other suggestions would tighten up post-shooting investigations: getting the city’s two police unions to stop demanding 48 hours of delay before detectives can interview officers in a shooting, and maybe reconsidering the bureau’s work with an outside law enforcement group, the East County Major Crimes Task Force, on internal shooting investigations.

Below is the definition of cherry-picking.

OIR Report: “PPB Superior”
City of Portland Auditor Report:

PPB Superior to Most Comparable Law Enforcement Agencies in Reviewing of Critical Incidents

On Wednesday, May 30, 2012, the Portland City Auditor’s Office released a report written by a California-based group, OIR, which reviewed seven Portland Police officer-involved shootings from March 2004 to March 2010. This is the sixth review by the Auditor’s Office of Police Bureau officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. This particular review evaluated cases where there was a mental health crisis or communication issue on scene.

The use of deadly force is the most important decision a police officer can make, and the subsequent investigation process is critical to providing the community with needed answers and transparency. These reviews also help police improve tactics and training. The Portland Police Bureau has made significant changes in policy and training in regard to deadly force incidents, beginning with changes dating back to the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) recommendations in 2003.

In the current report, the OIR Group said the Bureau has been responsive to reviews and: “we find the PPB to be superior to most comparable law enforcement agencies in the way in which it reviews critical incidents.” OIR also stated that “the Bureau’s history of opening itself to outside review and acceptance of recommendations from independent sources likewise sets it apart from many agencies.”

Because this report centered on deadly force incidents involving people in mental crisis, the report evaluated the Portland Police Bureau’s mental health training. The report says the Bureau has been “innovative and proactive in training its officers and partnering with the mental health care community in efforts to improve its service to the mentally ill.” It also commended the Bureau’s Mobile Crisis Unit as “an innovative development.”

The report made 13 recommendations; Chief Michael Reese responded to each recommendation, either agreeing with it or stating that it has already been implemented.

“We appreciate the work of the OIR group,” said Chief Reese. “While we are pleased to be recognized for the significant work that has been done over the years by the Bureau, there is always room for improvement or enhancements.”

The OIR Group will present the findings and recommendations to the City Council at 2:45 p.m., Wednesday, June 6, 2012 in the second-floor auditorium of the Portland Building, 1120 S.W. Fifth Avenue.

To read the complete report: http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=52199&a=399048


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