MHAP, others will offer testimony on police review

By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, Oct. 23, 2013

PPB shieldA number of proposed Portland City Code changes that would expand the powers of the Independent Police Review Division and require more information be made public on the police chief’s disciplinary decisions are to go before City Council this afternoon.

The League of Women Voters, Portland Copwatch and the Mental Health Association of Portland already have weighed in, releasing their written testimony.

Portland Copwatch will urge the council not to adopt the proposed changes. The police watchdog group argues that the changes only add power to the professional staff working for the city’s Independent Police Review Division, the intake center for complaints against Portland police, yet do not significantly strengthen the citizen panel that hears complainant’s appeals of police investigative findings.

“While many of the proposed ideas are good first steps, they do not go far enough to ensure thorough, independent and transparent oversight of the police,” wrote Dan Handelman, who runs the police watchdog group Portland Copwatch.

Jason Renaud, of the Mental Health Association of Portland, called the existing citizen complaint process “daunting,” especially for people suffering from mental illness.

“The paperwork, investigations, lengthy waits and public exposure are substantial barriers to participation,” Renaud in written testimony he’ll present to council.

Renaud suggests that the Independent Police Review Division hire peer mediators who share common life experiences with persons with mental illness. They would help guide a person through the complaint process, or offer an alternative –  a personal conversation with a specified officer, who will show up out of uniform and at a meeting site other than a police station.

“The opportunity to speak privately and face-to-face, is far more likely to result in meaningful and satisfying conflict resolution than a lengthy investigation and hearing,” Renaud wrote.

The co-presidents of the League of Women Voters said the league generally supports the proposed changes but asks that the council obtain more input from the community and the Citizen Review Committee. The league’s leaders said they’re concerned about what would happen to a complaint if an investigation is not completed by the proposed 180-day deadline.

“The League recommends that this process be slowed down so that the public’s voice can be heard,” the league co-presidents Margaret Noel and Kathleen Hersh wrote to council.

Under the proposed changes, investigators from Portland’s Independent Police Review Division could directly question and compel testimony from any officer or police bureau employee.

If a sworn officer or civilian member of the Police Bureau refused an interview, they could face discipline, up to discharge, by the chief or police commissioner. Employes would be told the date and time of the interview and would have the right to have a union representative present.

Portland Officer Daryl Turner, president of the rank-and-file union the Portland Police Association, said last week that he had not discussed the proposed changes with the IPR division director. He said such a change would be a subject of mandatory bargaining. He said he hoped to meet with the director to find out what the interviews would be used for.

“My job is to protect officers’ rights,” Turner said. “Right now, we will look at the proposal, meet with the city and in the end, hope there’s a collaborative effort to reach agreement.”

In another proposed code change, public reports on alleged police misconduct cases heard by the Portland Police Review Board, which recommends discipline to the chief, would be expanded to include the board’s recommended findings, the police chief’s proposed discipline and the final discipline.

If the chief imposes discipline different from the review board’s recommendation, the chief would have to provide a written explanation to the police commissioner.

The chief’s final discipline is not included in the public reports now.

The matter was raised when Police Chief Mike Reese last year disregarded the review board’s recommendation to fire then-Capt. Todd Wyatt and instead demoted Wyatt to lieutenant. The review board found Wyatt had inappropriately touched female employees under his command, wasn’t truthful about what had occurred and escalated an off-duty road rage encounter by flashing his gun and badge.

Mary-Beth Baptista, then director of the Independent Police Review Division, criticized the chief’s decision in the Wyatt case, saying it wasn’t what police accountability looked like.

Other proposed changes would alter the makeup of the Citizen Review Committee, now a nine-member volunteer group that hears appeals from people who have filed complaints against an officer and seek to challenge the bureau’s findings. The committee would grow to 11 members, and all would have to sign a confidentiality agreement.

The Independent Police Review Division also is recommending changes in Police Bureau command structure. The head of police internal affairs would report directly to the police chief, “given the sensitive nature of misconduct investigations.” That’s essentially occurring now but hasn’t been formalized. The chief also could delegate authority to start or complete a misconduct inquiry to the head of internal affairs.

The other proposed changes call for:

  • the creation of a police discipline matrix to guide managers and ensure fair and consistent discipline
  • all administrative investigations of alleged misconduct to be completed within 180 days.
  • Citizen Review Committee members to be appointed to serve on Police Review Boards in use of force cases.

The code changes will be presented to City Council at 2:10 p.m. this afternoon.