By Pastor Mark Knutson and Dan Handelman of the Albinia Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform
In late May, consultants from the Los Angeles-Based OIR Group released a study on Portland Police Bureau shootings and deaths in custody. The Oregonian has supported the consultants’ call for the Bureau to learn more from its mistakes and to take simple steps like ensuring officers using assault rifles wear earpieces. What’s been lost in the discussion is that many of the recommendations– both formal and informal– have previously been made, over the course of a decade or longer, by community members.
The Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform compiled 49 community demands dating back to the death of Jose Mejia Poot in 2001, which it forwarded to the Chief and Police Commissioner in October 2010–19 months before the consultants’ report. While a letter from the Chief and Mayor made an attempt to show progress with some demands last November, many remain unaddressed. The AMA Coalition is made up of volunteer citizens concerned for the good of their own community, yet came up with many of the same ideas for change as the consultants.
For example: The AMA Coalition urged: “Reconcile the Bureau’s training on use of force with the de-escalation taught to all officers in Crisis Intervention Team [CIT] Training.” The consultants, in their first recommendation, tell the Bureau to “integrate [CIT] training into patrol tactics… [and incorporate CIT training] into its evaluation of shooting and force incidents and hold its officers accountable.”
The consultants’ analysis of the Raymond Gwerder, (Lesley) Paul Stewart and Aaron Campbell shootings indicates that the Bureau has far to go in ensuring communication among crisis negotiators, Special Emergency Response and other officers. They pointed to the issue of earpieces, saying that the Bureau instituted such a policy after the Gwerder shooting, though officers in both subsequent shootings were not wearing earpieces. AMA Coalition called for “Communication between negotiators and other ‘teams’ must be established,” and that “proper equipment must be bought, distributed and trained with to ensure communication, such as earpieces which allow two-way dialogue.”
AMA Coalition demanded, related to Kendra James‘ shooting in 2003, that “the initial interview with officers involved in cases of serious injuries or deaths should take place within 24 hours.” The consultants recommended, and the Oregonian and the Chief both support, the removal of the so-called “48 hour rule” in the police union contracts.
The consultants fall short by failing to call for more independent oversight of these serious cases. They indicate that since the Independent Police Review Division (IPR) has been more involved in shootings cases, both during investigations and at the Police Review Board level, investigations have improved. They fail to acknowledge the community’s distrust of police investigating other police. PARC, the previous consulting group, called for more independent oversight. The OIR Group’s consultants merely repeat a PARC recommendation to stop relying on other local law enforcement agencies to assist in criminal investigations. In contrast, the AMA Coalition has called both for an independent prosecutor to conduct such investigations and a fully independent review board that can “engage in administrative (non-criminal) investigations of these incidents.”
Clearly, the community has made and can make further common-sense proposals for change without waiting for another expert report to bolster its demands. The consultants’ ability to examine confidential material is helpful, but can also be done by the community invoking the public interest exceptions to Oregon’s public records laws.
The consultants’ contract ends in 2014, but they will only examine 11 other shootings up until early 2011. The community has and can make recommendations for change as any new shootings occur. The Bureau should be much, much quicker to respond.
Mark Knutson of Augustana Lutheran Church and Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch are co-chairs of the AMA Coalition for Justice and Police Reform’s Training and Policy Committee.