Portland police claim 35 percent drop in use of force, but data show shootings are up

Portland police at the scene of a recent officer-involved shooting, which took the life of Billy Simms.

A Portland Police Bureau analysis shows the bureau’s use of force has dropped 35 percent since 2008, according to a four-page report released Wednesday.

The data shows there were 675 use of force incidents by Portland police in 2011, down from 1,039 in 2008.

It’s not clear from the report what the bureau’s use of force incidents include, but the report specifically notes that the data excludes an officer’s pointing of a firearm.

It also presents a graphic that shows that 3.9 percent of arrests in 2011 involved force, down from more than 4 percent of arrests in each of the three prior years.

Portland Police Chief Mike Reese credited policy, training and supervision changes for the drop in use of force.

They include new training for sergeants on when to walk away from certain suicide calls if the person is not a risk to themselves or others; dispatchers’ training to divert certain mental health crisis calls from police to the county’s crisis line and their mental health workers; and increased internal police bureau reviews of officer use of force.

The report says the bureau is planning to create a “mental health crisis triage desk,” but doesn’t explain what services it will provide.

Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson said the bureau’s crisis intervention coordinator is trying to work out some agreement that would allow information on a caller’s mental health history to be shared immediately at a new “mental health crisis triage desk.” This triage desk would assist in getting a person help, rather than sending a police car out.

“Since 2008, there has been a concerted and growing effort to emphasize de-escalation tools and a confrontation management approach in community contacts to minimize the need for the use of force,” the report says.

The brief report was released Wednesday as a federal investigation continues in the bureau’s use of force, and as some officers and rank-and-file union leaders are questioning what the chief’s standard is regarding police use of deadly force.

Reese testified last fall during fired Officer Ronald Frashour‘s arbitration hearing that Aaron Campbell posed no immediate threat to police before Frashour fatally shot him in the parking lot of a Northeast Portland apartment complex on Jan. 29, 2010. Reese testified that Frashour, who he fired in November 2010, didn’t have a right to shoot Frashour. An arbitrator has ordered Frashour be rehired, but the city has refused, and has challenged the arbitrator’s decision before the state Employment Relations Board.

“He never displayed a weapon. He didn’t take any offensive action towards the officer,” Reese said, of Campbell, in his sworn arbitration testimony in the Frashour firing. “We can’t use force on him.”

For Campbell to have posed an immediate threat, the chief testified, he would have had to take an “offensive action” — “turn toward us, pull something out, take a shooting stance.”

The chief’s testimony stunned Portland police rank-and-file officers, union leaders and the union’s use-of-force expert, who say the chief articulated a new standard, one that’s inconsistent with their training. And in the end, the arbitrator discounted the chief’s stance in her March ruling, ordering Frashour be reinstated.

On Wednesday, in a prepared statement released by the bureau with the use of force report, Reese said, “The community has expressed concern over police use of force and we are hoping to highlight the enhancements the Police Bureau has made and show the use of force numbers have declined. We also want community members to know we review every use of force report and will continue to monitor the numbers.”

Dan Handelman, of the police watchdog group Portland Copwatch,  called the report “thin.”

“It’s interesting information, but I think it’s too thin,” said Handelman.

He said the report doesn’t identify whether the use of less-lethal force is up or down or  the number of police shootings has dropped. Handleman said police shootings since 2007 have increased in number, with 2 in 2007, 4 by 2011 and 5 or 6 so far this year, depending if you include the shooting by a Portland cop in Aloha earlier this year.

“This mostly looks like a fluff, PR piece,” Handelman said. “We need more information to be able to have a meaningful discussion as a community.”

UPDATE: At 2:58 p.m, Portland police Sgt. Pete Simpson released further data, which was not included in the report.

Additional data not included in PPB’s original report.

The new data not included in the report breaks down use of force incidents involving the pointing of firearms, takedowns, Tasers, control holds, police Hobble restraints, pepper spray, bean bag shotgun use and batons.

It shows that officers’ pointing of firearms has dropped 37 percent from 2008 through 2011, from 813 incidents in 2008 to 509 in 2011. Police takedowns had a similar drop, from 539 in 2008 to 341 in 2011, a 37 percent drop.

Taser use dropped 40 percent, according to police data – from 378 incidents in 2008 to 228 in 2011, the data shows.

Yet, pepper spray use rose 21 percent between 2008 and 2011, from 58 incidents in 2008 to 70 cases in 2011, the new data released after the report shows.

Officer-involved shootings also have risen over the last several years, the requested data shows. The bureau data shows there were six officer-involved shootings in 2010, compared to 1 in 2009, 2 in 2008, 2 in 2007, 5 officer-involved shootings and two deaths in police custody in 2006.