When cops use force

from the Portland Tribune

BACK STORY: Tribune’s analysis of Portland police records show cops use force an average of every 2.2 hours

In the wake of James Jahar Perez’s fatal shooting by police officers after a traffic stop, hundreds of protesters gather in April 2004 to rally downtown. A few months later a new rule went into effect requiring officers to file a report every time they used force. Now the pressure’s on to look at the data.

Whether a punch, a shock from a Taser, a gun drawn and pointed at a suspect or pressing on the body’s pressure points, a Portland police officer uses force every 2.2 hours on average, according to a Portland Tribune analysis of two years of Portland Police Bureau records.

Following the incident last month in which James Chasse Jr. was crushed to death during an encounter with police in the Pearl District, the issue of how Portland police use force has come to the fore of public awareness.

Mayor Tom Potter announced two weeks ago that city Auditor Gary Blackmer had requested all of the police bureau’s use-of-force records, which have been collected since July 2004, after community representatives and experts recommended it in the aftermath of a controversial 2003 police shooting.

Potter said Blackmer would hire an independent analyst to study the data and report back.

“This is the kind of data all of Portland has been waiting for,” said Alejandro Queral, director of the nonprofit Northwest Constitutional Rights Center. “They do background checks on you if you want to be part of the police force, so we should be able as a community to go into those files and do our own background checks on officers and on the bureau as a whole.”

The Portland Tribune requested the data more than two months ago under Oregon public-records law. The police bureau provided it last week – 8,571 reports that cover roughly 27 months through Oct. 4.

The data show that a small percentage of Portland’s 1,000 officers are most often responsible for filing the reports, with 5 percent of cops accounting for 34 percent of the total uses of force.

Expand the number to the top 10 percent of officers who used force, and they represent 47.8 percent of the total uses of force.

Officers who most frequently pull out their guns are least likely to fire them, the data show.

At least 47 people had the same officer use force against them on two different dates, according to the Tribune’s analysis, and 13.7 percent of suspects in the reports had force used against them on multiple occasions, the most being 13 different times.

Suspects who had force used on them also were 10 times more likely to have to be taken to the hospital following one of these encounters than were cops, the data show.

And only one officer, Peter Taylor, assigned to East Precinct’s afternoon shift, has the distinction of appearing near the top in four categories. He is in the top 10 for overall uses of force, for sending suspects to the hospital, for deploying his Taser – he has used a Taser 10 times – and also for pointing a gun at someone more than 20 times in the past two years.

“I don’t think any of these numbers mean anything,” Portland Police Association President Robert King said. “Even gathering the data in the first place was a mistake because this is just going to be used as a tool to criticize us, and it’s criticism that we don’t need and don’t deserve.”

The Tribune tried reaching officers who appear prominently in the data, sending e-mails to the officers and making interview requests through the bureu’s public-information officer. None could be reached for comment before press time.

Police bureau officials urge people who see the data to consider the assignments of the cops involved in the incidents and the likelihood that the great majority of uses of force are justified and minor.

“It’s also really important, I think, to see whether the reports are generated out of self-initiated work as opposed to calls for service,” Police Chief Rosie Sizer said. “A lot of our people who are near the top of some of these lists are involved in high-risk and very choreographed work. I really hope that people remember and realize that in most cases uses of force are within our policy and consistent with our training.”

Blanks don’t help

Some data are poorly kept or incomplete, making analysis more difficult. For example, former Central Precinct Sgt. David Hendrie, recently assigned to the Detective Division, supervised cops involved in 165 use-of-force reports – the highest number among Portland Police Bureau supervisors named in the data.

For much of the past year, he managed cops assigned to downtown livability issues in the small Street Crime Unit that was designed to have many contacts with people Potter deemed unsavory and pledged publicly to remove.

At Central, Hendrie for a while had a handwritten note taped next to his computer that jokingly referring to his unit as the Police Officer Tactical Transient Eradication Responders, or POTTER.

Yet at the same time, it is impossible to know if Hendrie, in fact, was the top supervisor in that category, because officers filing use-of-force reports neglected to identify a supervisor more than half the time, leaving the field blank in their reports 4,508 times.

Still, by the available data, Central Precinct – which covers 30.8 square miles west of the Willamette River – is overrepresented in the top users of force. Four of the top 12 officers for filing such reports work at Central – including No. 1, officer Brian Hubbard, with 117.

Five of the top 11 supervisors also work at Central, including Sgt. Kyle Nice, who was involved in the incident that caused Chasse’s death, and who is ranked eighth in that incomplete set of data, with 85 reports filed by subordinates.

Also, of the 14 officers who sent the most suspects to the hospital, half work at Central. Among them is the officer who occupies the top spot in the category – Darrell Shaw – who has filed reports showing he was responsible for sending eight people off in ambulances since fall 2004.

The data also are not grouped by precinct or unit and are only roughly searchable by geography. The data were compiled and released by the police bureau, making independent verification difficult.

In addition, the police bureau does not track the outcome of criminal charges filed against the suspect.

“If they did, they might feel more pressure to win all those cases,” said Craig Colby, a Portland lawyer who has been critical of the official version of a January incident in which a Portland police lieutenant shot and killed a suspect in a stolen car. “I hate to give them an incentive to manufacture evidence, but that’s something somebody should look at so the public can know.”
Stats stayed in the crates

The police bureau began collecting use-of-force data in 2004, following community and expert recommendations that it do so in the aftermath of the police shooting of Kendra James, an unarmed motorist, in Northeast Portland the year before. The data has only begun to be analyzed by the police bureau.

The forms cops fill out define more than a dozen different types of force, ranging from handcuffing to physical takedowns to the use of batons, Tasers and firearms.

Until May, none of the reports had been entered into computers but sat in plastic crates in the police bureau’s Records Division on the 11th floor of the Justice Center downtown.

“To me, the fact that they have this information and are not analyzing or using the data at all creates situations where the public is bound to think they’re hiding something,” Queral said. “I mean, to have it and not look at it seems to the public like the police don’t want to know what they have.”

Southeast Precinct Cmdr. Derrick Foxworth, who as police chief mandated the filing of the reports, said they were designed to have many uses.

“One of our initial goals was to identify trends in the information, maybe use that to modify our policies, modify our training,” he said.

“Originally we weren’t looking at including it in the Early Intervention System for officers who might have some problems, but we added that to the list pretty quickly,” he said.

He said early plans included comparing similar areas, times of day and types of assignments to see who stood out and whether they were acting appropriately.

But the Records Division had not yet written the codes to input the data from the reports, and the order to have officers file the reports was briefly delayed.

“Ultimately, my feeling was that it was important to start filling these out and collecting them right away, regardless of whether we could put them in a computer right away,” Foxworth said. “This wasn’t something I felt we could put off any longer.”

Foxworth’s son, Northeast Precinct night-shift officer Derrick Foxworth Jr., has a notable presence in the reports. He is tied for 10th in overall uses of force with 55. And he ranks second for pointing his gun at people – 36 times in two years – behind a Portland police detective assigned to capturing high-risk fugitives alongside the U.S. Marshals Service.

That detective, Dirk Anderson, is evidence that a high ranking in a use-of-force category doesn’t mesn the cop believes in inappropriate force. Anderson was the anonymous whistle-blower after two off-duty Portland cops beat a man in January 2002. The city settled with the man for $75,000 the next year, and the cops were indicted, pleaded guilty and served jail time.

Sizer explained further, saying assignments like that given the younger Foxworth involve a large number of felony traffic stops.

“And though there is no written policy, it is part of our training to approach a vehicle in that situation with our guns already out and trained on the vehicle,” she said.

Group’s meant to go at it

Leslie Stevens, director of the city’s Independent Police Review Division, said Sizer was helping her staff a task force to study the data, offering her Portland police training officers and an assistant chief.

Other task force members would include Stevens and one of her staffers, former Benton County District Attorney Pete Sandrock, along with two citizens taken from her division’s Citizen Review Committee.

“I want to keep this task force manageable – I don’t want it to die under its own weight,” Stevens said.

She said she wants to look for patterns – types of force used, police units that use more force than others, injuries to police and civilians. She said she also is interested in whether uses of force follow certain supervisors or field training officers around from assignment to assignment.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” Stevens said. “None of us have seen any of this data yet, but I’m excited to do the work.”

Queral said he was deeply interested in the results.

“We have waited a long time for what to me is as simple as keeping a promise,” he said.

King, the police union president, said it was failed leadership that kept the bureau from analyzing the data earlier.

“It should have been a priority for the top managers at the police bureau to get this done,” he said. “They know it best, they know how to use it, and we would have been happy to help with that effort. But now the only thing we can do is keep our heads down and ignore this so we can get back to work.”