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The City of Portland, Oregon

Independent Police Review

Independent Police Review is a police oversight agency, and is independent and autonomous from the Portland Police Bureau.

phone: 503-823-0146

fax: 503-823-4571

1221 SW 4th Avenue, Room 140, Portland, OR 97204

November 12, 1998

NOVEMBER 12, 1998
Citizen Advisors Present: Charles Ford, Presiding; Marina Anttila; Gene Bales; Les Frank; Deborah Haring; Leora Mahoney; Steve Heck; Robert Ueland; Randall Weisberg; Robert Wells
Citizen Advisors Absent: Dapo Sobomehin
City Staff Present: Sgt. Jeff Barker, IAD; Capt. Bill Bennington, IAD; Sgt. Vince Jarmer, IAD; Sgt. Pam Kauffman, IAD; Lisa Botsko, PIIAC Staff; Sgt. John Smith, IAD
Media Present: Dan Handelman, Flying Focus Video
[Heck not yet present.]
Ford called the meeting to order. He thanked Leora Mahoney and and the North Portland Neighborhood Office for providing location and refreshments for the last advisory meeting.
PIIAC #98-05: Botsko summarized. The appellant, a Portland police officer, had originally filed a complaint with Internal Affairs in June 1997 on behalf of a fellow officer. A PPB supervisor had turned down that officer’s request to work a special detail . Evidently the officer’s IAD complaint history was part of the reason, which the appellant said would be justifiable grounds for the rejection. But the supervisor allegedly made another statement regarding race and gender, verifiable by witnesses, and the appellant felt this was improper and discriminatory.
IAD declined the complaint, citing legal justification and also the fact that a union grievance had been filed. The declination letter did offer to re-open the case if the outcome of the grievance arbitration indicated possible wrongdoing.
The appellant subsequently filed a PIIAC appeal in early 1998. In preparation for the advisory meeting, Botsko had reviewed the complaint file, and in a preliminary audit report sent to PIIAC advisors and IAD, she recommended that IAD accept the complaint as an EEO investigation, or obtain sufficient legal grounds to support a declination. For example, the declination letter stated that the appellant had "no colorable claim of discrimination." Botsko stated that the language sounded legalistic, and IAD should have legal consultation before using this type of phraseology. She expressed concerns that IAD would offer to re-open an investigation pending on the outcome of the grievance. If the potential existed for a General Order violation, IAD should proceed with review. She stated that the grievance process may be the appropriate vehicle for some of the issues, but not necessarily for the allegations of misconduct or general order violation.
The day before the scheduled advisory meeting, Botsko met with Assistant Chief Butzer. Her impression was that he agreed with her assessment and the case would be voluntarily withdrawn. The next day, Botsko was contacted by the appellant who had been given the same impression, and he requested that he withdraw his appeal for the time being.
Recently he was sent yet another declination letter from IAD, who never proceeded with investigating his complaint. They based their decision on the withdrawal of the grievance, and also stated that the allegations do not comprise a legal violation. Therefore, the appellant was renewing the appeal to PIIAC.
Botsko said that she had been surprised to learn that IAD had not done anything different with this complaint. Had she know that from the beginning, she would not have withdrawn the appeal from last January’s docket. She was disappointed in the communication glitch.
[Heck arrived.]
The appellant addressed the committee and elaborated on the circumstances leading up to his complaint. He said that if the supervisor had simply limited himself to commenting on the officer’s complaint history, there would not have been a problem, but mentioning the officer’s gender and race appeared to violate the general order prohibiting employment discrimination. The remark was overheard by other officers willing to testify. The labor agreement process does not address misconduct issues, which he believed this was.
Capt. Bennington addressed the panel, and stated that sometimes a simple allegations can be complex. Volunteers are solicited for the particular assignment. There are many applicants, not all can be chosen. The criteria for accepting a complaint is whether if the allegation were true, would it constitute a violation? Capt. Bennington believed that in this case. The general order prohibiting discrimination refers only to employment status, which in the officer’s case was not affected. An issue involving an overtime assignment is best handled through the grievance process. He had consulted with the city attorney’s office, that told him that the Portland Police Association could pursue a parallel process, but that his declination was based on the merit of the complaint.
The appellant stated that he had not filed the IAD complaint in his capacity as a union official, but as a police officer. Ueland wondered why he had used PPA stationery for his correspondence if that was the case.
Weisberg said he had two concerns.. First, this particular explanation was not laid out in the declination letter, and he asked the appellant if a better explanation would help. The appellant said that the explanation did not suffice. Weisberg also said that he had no information about PPB’s policy or selection criteria for the overtime assignment.
Botsko asked the appellant if there was any material benefit to working the special assignment. The appellant said it meant overtime pay. Botsko then said she was not entirely sure that the language about "employment status" referred only to whether or not someone was employed. In employment law, it could also mean financial or other gain. She was not comfortable with IAD not having better legal interpretation.
Wells asked if the advisors or IAD could get a legal opinion about the language of the general order and if it could apply to this situation. Weisberg responded that if the facts present a legal issue, the committee by itself is not equipped to answer that. He asked what the BFQ (bona fide qualifications) are for the overtime assignment, and what the actual composition of the detail was. Ford said he would like information about both issues. Weisberg said that he would suggest first getting basic information, then later decide if a legal opinion is warranted. Ford agreed.
Weisberg made a motion that IAD obtain additional information about the bona fide qualifications for the assignment and the actual qualification of the detail. He also wanted IAD to determine whether the alleged remark was arbitrary, or whether the supervisor truly did make selections based on ethnic origin and gender. Bales seconded. The motion carried unanimously [Y-10].
Monitoring Report: Ueland summarized. He said that the second and third quarter monitoring was being combined into a single report. He highlighted key points of the report. The Bureau had revised their general orders pertaining to the complaint and disciplinary process, and these new G.O’s are very comprehensive. Key changes include a broadening of criteria for the Early Warning System (formerly "Command Review), including review of tort claims for which the advisors had long advocated. Bifurcation of complaints was now provided for: if peripheral violations are discovered during a complaint investigation, such as failure to properly document use of force, but the force itself is exonerated, the matter can be "bifurcated" from the main complaint.
Also, the Bureau now has a finding called "Not Sustained with Debriefing," which means that if a complaint is not sustained against an officer because there was no specific violation, but the officer might have handled the situation better, the supervisor can debrief with the officer in a non-punitive manner. Previously, a supervisor may or may not have done this.
Advisors noted that timeliness has continued to worsen in IAD cases reviewed, and unfortunately, investigative quality was becoming inconsistent. The report recommended several methods of helping to improve timeliness, including maintaining better activity logs, maintaining better records of cases in progress, capping the number of cases assigned to an investigator at any given time. Frank asked whether such record-keeping would further burden the investigators. Ueland said these were simply recommendations; the Bureau could determine what might or might not work. Botsko also said that while the paperwork might take longer, it often helped more effectively manage heavy caseloads. Wells added that the subcommittee is not trying to micromanage IAD, but is making suggestions for best practices.
Weisberg asked about the Early Warning System, and how declinations fit into that. Botsko said that for the next quarterly report, she planned to review declinations.
Ueland also said that PIIAC occasionally had reports of service-related complaints that do not fall under "misconduct." The Bureau does not consistently respond to these as well as they could, and the subcommittee was recommending the Bureau have an "ombudsman" or a point person to respond to service or policy issues, research citizen requests or questions, provide information or if appropriate, attempt resolution for a citizen.
One of the appeals advisors handled in the past quarter led to a recommendation. A teenage girl’s car was towed for failure to provide proof of insurance. She was quite a distance from home, it was dark, and her mother had complained the girl had to walk a ways to a public phone and was very scared. This was not the first such complaint advisors had heard about. Although advisors had no disagreement with the tow policy, they noted that Bureau GO’s makes no mention of officer responsibility to someone who could be vulnerable if left stranded. Advisors do not believe officers should transport such people home, but might at least ensure that person was safely seen to a public telephone. Therefore the recommendation was that Bureau G.O. address this.
Capt. Bennington responded to the monitoring report. He said some of the concerns have already been addressed, and that PPB takes the reports seriously. The Bureau would review the General Order regarding the tow policy. Regarding the complaint advisors had reviewed, the peripheral issues would be addressed by the Bureau’s Review Level Committee.
Regarding IAD staffing, the Bureau had to borrow an IAD investigator for Operation 80, a massive program for hiring. It was a tough decision, but it will be a short-term assignment. Funds for case management software are carrying over; he anticipated implementing the software by January 2000.
He disagreed with the recommendation to cap investigations, because each investigator is assigned to work cases from a precinct, and having all the cases in hand helps illuminate patterns and practices. He also said the ombudsman recommendation might not be necessary because of the new General Order provision for tracking service complaints. Repeated service complaints could trigger a review under the Early Warning System.
Robert Ueland made a motion that the report be accepted; Weisberg seconded. The motion carried unanimously [Y-10].
New Business:
Ford asked for volunteers to assist the monitoring subcommittee. The advisors discussed plans for the December meeting and annual potluck.
Public Input:
Nena Williams volunteered to participate in efforts to revise PIIAC city code.
Dan Handelman said that the monitoring report was very thorough and he hoped the committee would continue publishing them four times a year. He commented on some previous meeting times that had been canceled due to lack of appeals, and suggested that advisors take advantage of those months to meet with the community or conduct work sessions.
He stated that at a recent rally to protest police brutality, many people did not know about PIIAC, including public defenders.
Botsko responded that public defenders have no excuse, their office is on PIIAC’s mailing list and they receive all of the reports.
Handleman said that "The Skanner" newspaper had recently published an editorial calling for an independent review board, and recommending that issue be placed on the ballot.
He said that Copwatch is not anti-police, just anti-brutality, anti-corruption.
The meeting adjourned.
Respectfully submitted,
Lisa Botsko