Sunday, May 05, 2013

DOES THE PORTLAND POLICE BUREAU NEED A BASIC CULTURAL OVERHAUL?

The following is from the U.S. Department of Justice web site: 
The United States and the city of Portland, Ore., have jointly filed in federal court a proposed court enforceable settlement agreement to remedy constitutional claims that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional uses of force in response to “low-level offenses” against persons with actual or perceived mental illness.  The agreement addresses the allegations described in a civil action also filed today by the United States, under provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 for alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.






There is a long story behind the above paragraph, one that I'm not getting into in order to save time and space. But I chose the above as a lead-in to this post. The answer to the title of this post is yes, in my opinion. 

Here is an opening statement in the final Agreement between the USDoJ and the City of Portand (CoP):

The United States and the City of Portland (“City”) (collectively “the Parties”)
recognize that the vast majority of the City’s police officers are honorable law enforcement professionals who risk their physical safety and well-being for the public good. 

I whole-heartedly agree with this statement, and that is not part of the argument I'm making. I want to talk about the culture of the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), the organizational mind set. 



Here is another statement from the Agreement between the DoJ and the CoP:

The Parties further recognize that the ability of police officers to protect themselves and the community they serve is largely dependent on the quality of the relationship they have with that community. Public and officer safety, constitutional policing, and the community’s trust in its police force are, thus, interdependent. 

This statement really captures the essence of my position. It's all about the "quality of the relationship" the PPB has with the community, and the community's trust in the police.


In my opinion, the Portland Police Bureau has a bad relationship with the Portland community, and it is because of a systemic problem within the Bureau.

There have been numerous killings of Portland citizens by Portland police officers in recent years. The deaths by police of Keaton Otis, Aaron Campbell, James Chasse, Jr., James Jahar Perez, and Kendra James have received a lot of media attention. There are many other shootings by police that have resulted in injury or death that don't get much press. And there are many more incidents of people injured by police officers using excessive force. 

Three recent examples of police using excessive force will illustrate my point. 
1. a young woman was pulled over by police at 1AM, she refused to take a sobriety test but agreed to take a breathalizer test (citizens have this right), she was grabbed by police officers and dragged out of her car through the open car window, and her wrist was broken in the process. 
2. a police officer stopped when she saw a man sitting with his car door open and puking into the street, when he didn't get out of his car after being asked, the officer filled the car with pepper spray and arrested the man when he staggered out of the car gagging from the spray, he spent two nights in jail before being released without being charged.
3. "The city of Portland will pay $2.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by William Kyle Monroe, a man diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was permanently disabled after Police Officer Dane Reister mistakenly fired lethal rounds at him from a beanbag shotgun in June 2011." The unarmed man was stopped by police after getting calls that a man was acting strangely around a playground with children. After he was stopped and emptied his pockets to show that he had no weapon, Mr. Monroe became frightened (he was having a paranoid mania incident) and started to run. The police officer fired his shotgun, thinking that it contained beanbag rounds, but it contained live rounds. The officer fired 5 times, the last shot from about 15 feet away, severely injuring Mr. Monroe, who nearly bled to death. (One wonders why the officer kept shooting after seeing that the shotgun had live rounds.) 

Another example to illustrate my point is that of Captain Mark Kruger. "An internal affairs investigation found Kruger brought "discredit and disgrace upon the Bureau and the City," when Kruger nailed "memorial plaques" of five Nazi soldiers to a tree on the east side of Rocky Butte Park sometime between 1999 and 2001." Kruger was mildly disciplined for this incident that greatly disturbed the Portland Jewish community, and has since been promoted to Captain and conducts leadership trainings for the bureau. 

Finally, another incident that did not involve a human victim of police actions, but helps illustrate my point. In 2012, a Portland Police Bureau anti-terrorist unit staged a training raid on the Columbia River. The cops stormed a beach by boat, shooting high-powered assault weapons at targets set up on the beach. The problem with this exercise was that the location was in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, at Cape Horn on the Washington side of the river. The training exercise left the basalt cliffs at Cape Horn permanently defaced with a large number of pock marks from the high-caliber rounds. The U. S. Forest Service, which manages the Scenic Area, was not notified of the exercise, and probably (one would hope) would not have approved it. The City of Portland apologized and blamed it on a "new person" who planned the operation. There was no penalty of any kind. (Imagine what would have happened to me if I had shot hundreds of live rounds into the basalt cliff in a National Scenic Area!)

My point from all of the above is this: the Portland Police Bureau has little regard for the community it serves, as evidenced by the way they treat Portland citizens as well as iconic and significant landscape features that help form the foundation of what it means to be Portland. All of this stems from the bureau's institutional mindset that values bureau insularity more than the community. People in Portland's minority communities are afraid of the police, as they should be based on the record. 

Police officers can do their job without hurting people, except in a small number of incidents. People stopped for weird behavior, suspicion of drunk driving, or suspicion of gang activity should not be beat up or shot. This is not simply a matter of a "few bad apples" in the force; it is a matter of a failed institution that trains it's officers poorly and condones bad behavior by looking the other way. 

Police officers have a tough job to do, every day. However, their job would be easier if they were a part of the community, not an armed force running roughshod over the community. 

I've worked with Portland cops on neighborhood issues. They are mostly good people with a difficult job. There are many good things to be said about the Portland police and the majority of dedicated and professional officers. As an institution, however, the Portland  Police Bureau has failed the community in too many important ways, and a complete overhaul to change the culture of the institution is way overdue. 









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