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Oregon Cops Outraged by Excessive Force Reforms

Following several high-profile, controversial incidents, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) is “cracking down” on high excessive-to-arrest ratios, and officers are outraged.

In the wake of a fatal 2003 police shooting, the PPB began collecting officer use-of-force data in the summer of 2004, as recommended by community representatives and outside consultants. The Bureau has also implemented 2007 city task force recommendations that it identify officers whose force-to-arrest rations exceed three times that of their unit average, identify officers who use force in more than 15 percent of their arrests, and conduct semi-annual performance discussions with officers, including use-of-force reviews.

On February 12, 2008, Assistant Chief Lynnae Berg sent commanders a document listing officers who used force in 30 percent or more of their arrests between September 12, 2007 and February 12, 2008. Berg directed division lieutenants to pull all use-of-force and arrest reports for those officers, identify any training or decision-making concerns, discuss those concerns with the officers, and provide documentation of the meetings to the chief’s office.

“We want to make sure we’re doing a good job of analyzing when use of force is used,” explained Berg. Chief Rosie Sizer, Berg, and Leslie Stevens, the new civilian head of the Bureau’s Office of Professional Standards, all assured officers that the reviews would not be used for discipline.

Yet, officers are still upset, especially in the Central Precinct, which was found to have significantly higher use-of-force reporting than any other precinct. “The backlash of Chief Sizer’s decision hit officers at Central Precinct and officers bureau-wide like a ton of bricks,” wrote Central Precinct Officer Daryl Turner in the police union’s monthly newspaper. He argued that supervisor discussions about an officer’s use-of-force statistics is counseling, which should be done in the presence of a union representative. Turner also claimed that an unidentified Central Precinct officer had been transferred to a different Precinct over concerns about his high use of force reports. “Officers and supervisors were upset, distraught, and discouraged, to say the least, regarding the chief’s decision,” wrote Turner.

The police union has filed a grievance, challenging the chief’s new practice. Union President, Sergeant Robert King, dismissed the use-of-force data as “fundamentally flawed.” Turner and others fault the failure to include incidents when officers use force when placing people on mental holds or taking them to detox without making arrests. Adding those numbers drops the force-to-arrest ratios, Turner and others contend.

Chief Sizer explained that the numbers should be a starting point for discussions that will improve officer “self-awareness and performance as well as improve the organization as a whole.” Stevens added: “I’m hopeful that future discussions will become less threatening to some and will help create a positive learning environment where discussions about the way the Bureau delivers services will be part of our everyday culture.”

Stevens reminded officers that “the Bureau expects members to develop and display…the skills and abilities that allow them to regularly resolve confrontations without resorting to the higher levels of allowable force.” Chief Sizer incorporated this expectation into a new use-of-force policy adopted earlier this year. In a significant shift in PPB policy, it encourages officers to use the least amount of force possible. The union has filed a grievance, challenging the policy. Source: The Oregonian

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