The most recent quarterly report from the police bureau on how its officers use force—and against whom—offers some cause for concern in the wake of news last week that the city and Portland Police Association had found relative peace over federal reforms.
For reasons still unknown, and due to be put under closer scrutiny over the next several months, Portland officers have seen a significant and steady increase in force incidents involving people identified as transient or mentally ill throughout 2013. The latest report, covering the three-month period between July 1 and September 30, lists 112 people between both categories—up from 93 during the quarter before and 76 during the first three months of 2013.
READ – PPB Force Data Summary Report, 1st Quarter, 2013 (PDF, 50KB)
READ – PPB Force Data Summary Report, 2nd Quarter, 2013 (PDF, 55KB)
READ – PPB Force Data Summary Report, 3rd Quarter, 2013 (PDF, 48KB)
The force reports, which started this year, are part of the bureau’s efforts to get right with the U.S. Department of Justice over accusations Portland cops unconstitutionally use excessive force against people with mental illness and are too quick, in general, to escalate force incidents and use Tasers.
Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch flagged the latest report for me after noticing the increase described above. But Handelman also noticed another interesting fluctuation: an increase, over the past three months, of instances when an officer had to cycle a Taser against someone more than twice. Policy changes are supposed to limit the circumstances in which officers are allowed to use multiple (50,000-volt) Taser cycles.
Handelman also noticed something else that’s now been missing from all but the first force report: demographic data. The first report found that more than a third of all people involved in force incidents earlier this year were listed as African American and that white men made up less than half of the number.
The disproportionate number fits a pattern for police activity that’s pretty well-established and has already been cause for soul-searching. Has that number gotten worse in the past three months? We don’t know because the bureau has stopped including that information, despite Handelman’s persistent entreaties.