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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Civilian Police Oversight More Popular than Non-Civilian Police Oversight

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 3:14 PM

The city auditor's office released its annual passel of "community survey" results this morning—an exercise, now in its 23rd year, meant to lay bare Portlanders' feelings on city government and the services it provides.

It's an illuminating read, all 56 pages of it, which you can find here (pdf). But a few paragraphs in particular caught my eye this year, especially in light of an ongoing and highly charged contretemps between the Portland Police Bureau and the auditor's office over some proposed changes to the city's (federally criticized) police oversight system.

First, positive marks for the police bureau have dipped sharply in recent years—bumping up only slightly in 2013.

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But second, and more interesting? When asked to rate the bureau's accountability mechanisms alongside the auditor's Independent Police Review Division's mechanisms, the IPR comes out slightly ahead. In fact, the bureau's rating, the report notes, has been slipping over the past few years. (Not that either of them really rated that favorably.)

In 2013, 32 percent and 34 percent of residents gave positive ratings to the Police Bureau and the Auditor’s Independent Police Review division (IPR) efforts to regulate police conduct, respectively. Since we began asking this question in 2010, positive ratings of IPR’s efforts have remained the same, while positive ratings of the Police Bureau’s efforts have declined 5 percentage points.

City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade was working on the community survey yesterday, I was told—the day after submitting a super brutal memo (pdf) to Mayor Charlie Hales and the city council pulling back on code changes and improvements strongly resisted by Police Chief Mike Reese. No doubt she relished including the previously mentioned stats at the same time as Portland was learning more about two "alarming" cases the Mercury first reported on two weeks ago.

The first of those incidents was the Mike Kuykendall investigation, a matter which received extensive public coverage. It is important to note that the case involved 19 witnesses, 16 of whom were command staff, including Chief Reese. Because Kuykendall supervised the division that includes IA, a sworn officer from elsewhere in the Bureau was assigned to investigate the complaint against him. The officer selected for this responsibility was nearing retirement and lacked any familiarity with the current oversight system. The assigned officer’s investigation was by all measures wholly inadequate. IPR demanded a more in depth investigation. A lieutenant who had recently left IA worked with IPR to re-interview witnesses and conduct a more thorough investigation. The second investigation revealed potential serious misconduct. Director Kuykendall resigned before possible disciplinary action could be pursued or meted out.

The second incident involved Assistant Chief Hendricks, who became the head of the Services Branch after the departure of Director Kuykendall, and had ultimate authority over IA. AC Hendricks inappropriately intervened to prevent a complaint from going forward for IA investigation. The May 29, 2013 memorandum (pdf) (included in my email to you) shows our communication with the Mayor and Chief Reese as a result of that intervention. Chief Reese did formally respond in a subsequent memorandum, saying that there was no attempt to circumvent the investigation, but given the available evidence, we do not believe that to be the case.

These incidents help illustrate the need for IPR to conduct what the DOJ agreement terms “meaningful independent investigations,” particularly when the subject is a high ranking police official. These cases also exemplify why IPR should have the authority to compel the testimony of PPB members independent of Police Bureau involvement. In the first incident, using an investigator at the end of his career and without direct knowledge of current oversight processes undermined police accountability and established practice. Both cases are emblematic of why a higher level of scrutiny and due diligence should be applied to investigations involving command staff, or certainly not less scrutiny and due diligence than would be applied to any other Police Bureau member of lesser status.

Hales' office has said the mayor has known about these cases for weeks, even before we presented them (admittedly with less detail) on October 16. And that information clearly didn't spur Hales into action.

But as I wrote in Hall Monitor this week, he's the one who's supposed to be speaking loudest on accountability, not the police chief who serves, ultimately, at his pleasure. Maybe these stats will help do what the egregious examples above didn't.

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