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Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Sneak Peek at Commissioner Randy Leonard's Public Safety Report

Posted by Amy J. Ruiz on Thu, Aug 28, 2008 at 4:22 PM

I just snagged a draft of Commissioner Randy Leonard's Public Safety Assessment, the report mayor-elect Sam Adams asked him to prepare. It's not due on Adams' desk until September 9, but Leonard and his staff "reluctantly" released it today, though they're still waiting for the mayor and the chief to comment on it. (UPDATED at 5:30 pm with Potter's response, at the bottom.)

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Lauding Portland's police officers--they're "among the most professional, creative, and progressive police officers employed by any city in the United States"--Leonard writes that their success in lowering the crime rate is "despite a City and County criminal justice system that is strained by shrinking County resources, poor coordination, and redundancy... in a fractured criminal justice system."

"I have prepared a snapshot of the state of the Portland Police Bureau and a series of recommendations designed to deliver a sustainable framework to ensure that front line officers receive the support they need to do their jobs," Leonard writes.

The quick take on the 16 page report: Leonard addresses the problems the bureau has had in fully staffing the department, the "vision" of community policing, which "has been diluted after many years and varying degrees of commitment by subsequent leadership in the Police Bureau," "poor" internal communication that "[results] in a decision making process that lacks street officer input, and an "almost exclusively reactive" media relations and public outreach strategy (he's spot on with this one; we've had next to no luck gaining access to the bureau even when we've pitched all-out puff pieces, like tagging along with the bomb squad to see what that job's like).

Leonard also tackles the issue of "minority community engagement," which he portrays as a currently spotty effort, with advisory councils that have worked for some communities, and have "dissolved" in the case of the Latino Advisory Council. As for racial profiling: "Over years of discussion, little progress has been made in establishing common ground between the two sides on this issue." Leonard notes that while not everyone agrees that racial profiling exists, "even the perception of racial profiling is a problem for the City," and the bureau needs to tackle it.

On drier topics like the budget, Leonard writes that the process of crafting a budget is insular, and "involves a limited amount of input from either the community or front line staff from within the bureau." Also, he notes that "the leadership of the organization" gives the budget development and implementation short shrift, which is ineffective for a $153 million budget ("This is in part due to the tradition of Police Bureau leadership emerging from the ranks with little or no formal exposure to public budgeting," he notes). There are "fiefdoms" that make it difficult to shift resources within the bureau even as needs change throughout the city--causing units like the Drug and Vice squad to lack the resources they need to tackle things like the "burgeoning prostitution problem."

Finally, the coordination between the Portland Police Bureau and the county "is sporadic at best." He cites the Service Coordination Team in Old Town as an example of "excellent coordination" that's "the exception and not the norm." Back to prostitution, Leonard points out that if Multnomah County Judges listened to cops' requests to hold arrested sex workers for one to three days, "they could be separated from and protected from their pimps and then diverted into specific treatment programs to begin the process of breaking down the cycle of prostitution."

Leonard's conclusion is after the jump. Check out the report here, but note that it could change before it's finally finished, once Leonard gets feedback from the mayor and chief--arguably the two who would have the most to say about the report.

I was able to get some info from Sgt. Brian Schmautz, the police spokesperson: "The police bureau was sharing information with the mayor to give a response. I understand he is in the process of doing that. [The chief's] feedback will be wrapped into the mayor's response."

UPDATE at 5:30 pm--Mayor Tom Potter has responded to the assessment, in a letter addressed to Adams. "Overall, I am concerned with the tone and depth of any report that makes such sweeping statements about a number of important issues, including such difficult-to-quantify issues as morale," he writes, before diving into each sub-category of the report. Potter notes that some of Leonard's recommendations "are at odds with the recommendations of the sub-committees that assisted preparing in the report, and that committee notes seem to indicate that certain findings were requested or assumed before any research began."

Potter agrees with some of Leonard's recommendations, and supports hiring a communications position, for example. In other areas, he picks apart Leonard's conclusions. I'm dashing out the door to head up our Obama speech viewing party, but you can check out the full response here.

In closing, Leonard writes:

The Portland Police Bureau faces many challenges; some are imposed upon it, while other challenges are self-created. In my view, if the management of the Police Bureau addresses internal issues such as low morale, lack of internal coordination, outdated hiring processes, poor communication, and inflexible budget development and execution, then the Police Bureau's ability to combat external challenges such as increased gang activity, drug-related crimes, and prostitution will improve.

With that said, the Police Bureau management's resistance to embracing constructive recommendations is a barrier to improving the performance and reputation of the Police Bureau. A consistent observation surfaced throughout the bureau, and among city staff and community stakeholders that the Police Bureau management too often treats internal and external input with defensiveness, suspicion, and distrust. In conducting my research for this report, I was forced to draw the same conclusion when the reaction from the Police Bureau management to my inquiries and
observations was defensive, and in some cases, obstructive.

Although the reaction I encountered from Police Bureau management is not unusual in policing agencies, Portland should strive to emerge from the traditional mold of police command culture and set a high standard for other police agencies to aspire to. The recommendations contained within this report, if embraced and implemented, will make the Portland Police Bureau a more functional and satisfying place to work, with adequate staffing, improved morale, and the support of the Council and the public. With that foundation in place, the outstanding performance we see today from our officers will only improve, paving the way for Portland to be regarded as one of the best-if not the best- law enforcement organization in the United States.



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