A Letter from Portland Copwatch


In early 2007, the Portland Police released a report on Use of Force which showed heavy use of force activity by transit police and Central Precinct officers, and included recommendations to lower the amount of force used.

READ – Portland Police Bureau Use of Force Report, released 4 / 2007.

The report broke out use of force against people with mental illness, likely because it was rushed into existence by the death of James Chasse Jr. in Sept. 2006, but not by race / ethnicity because they felt such statistics would be misinterpreted.

Through our work on the Racial Profiling Committee, Portland Copwatch was eventually able to push the Bureau to release statistics that showed that when police use force – batons, hands, pepper spray, Tasers, or pointing weapons – it is disproportionately (20-30% vs 6% of the population) against African-American Portlanders.

READ – Portland Police Bureau Plan to Address Racial Profiling, February 2009

The report also did not contain information on how often police pointed firearms at people, even though the collection of that data was adopted after community input following the death of Kendra James in 2003. That data was also eventually released to the Racial Profiling Committee.

Unfortunately, the “laser light only” data – how frequently officers point the red dot of their laser sight from Taser weapons at people – will likely not be part of this report as Chief Sizer unilaterally decided to stop collecting it in December 2007 because no other agency was doing so. (We argued the Portland should take the lead, then, since people who see an officer pointing a gun-like weapon at them and a red dot on their clothing will likely fear they are about to be shot. Sizer did not change her mind.)

The Use of Force Task Force has re-convened; just like last time it is mostly made up of Police Bureau personnel, along with staff from the Independent Police Review Division and at least one member of the Citizen Review Committee. (As it happens, the IPR now has on staff a former public defender, who also happens to be an African-American man, Constantin Severe; last time there were no people of color on the Use of Force Task Force).

Michael Bigham, chair of the Citizen Review Committee, has said he wants public input to share at the meetings. According to the March 17 Independent Police Review Division Director’s report, Bigham is on the agenda of the Use of Force Task Force’s meeting a week from Monday – so on April 6th he will be presenting.

    The Use of Force Task Force meetings are held on the second and fourth Monday of the month at 11 AM in the Chief Rosie Sizer’s conference room at 1111 S.W. 2nd Avenue. Check in at the front desk for a visitor’s badge and directions. Chief’s phone is 503-823-0000. Next meeting is APRIL 6 at 11 AM.

If you have a comment you’d like made at the Use of Force Task Force, send it to Dan Handelman at copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org. The Citizen’s Review Committee doesn’t make it’s contact information public (!?!) so Dan is the best conduit to the Citizen Review Committee chair.