Chief: Portland police will overhaul use-of-force rules

Task force report says other cities sustain force-related complaints more than Portland

Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer on Tuesday committed to overhauling the way bureau officers use force in encounters with suspects and citizens, following a task force's analysis that found Portland had not sustained a single citizen force-related complaint in a 26-month span.

The 30-page report posted on the city website Tuesday morning was issued jointly by Sizer and the city's Independent Police Review Division. It made 16 recommendations that called for clearer direction to officers, better training, better reporting and tracking of force-related incidents, and a higher standard for officers to employ use of force.

Leslie Stevens, head of IPR, wrote in a statement that the report did not examine individual incidents and therefore 'nothing in our analysis or this report shows that officers in Portland use force inappropriately. However, in an ever-changing world, it is always appropriate to examine new information and look for ways to improve.'

Sizer, in a memo accompanying the report, said the recommendations in the report were the result of 'careful consideration' by 'thoughtful people,' adding: 'As Portland Police Chief, I commit the organization to advancing the recommendations made by the committee.'

She stressed that similar to other police departments, force in Portland is used in less than 1 percent of all police calls and 5 percent of arrests. 'Use of force should not be viewed as synonymous with excessive force,' she wrote. 'Force is an occasional and unfortunate outcome of the work that we ask the men and women of the Portland Police Bureau to do.'

The report, however, highlighted areas of concern, such as that the bureau's lack of sustained force-related complaints in the period studied came in contrast to other cities where, according to a 2002 federal report, between 8 percent and 14 percent of excessive-force complaints are sustained on average.

The report's recommendations are the result of 'the strong correlation between citizen complaints and use of force, as well as the fact (the bureau) is markedly different from its peers in terms of exonerating officers and not finding citizen-generated use of force complaints to be (sustained),' the report said.

Specifically, it found that the bureau exonerated officers in 62 percent of force-related complaints, more than double the national average. Representatives of the Portland Police Bureau sitting on the task force urged caution in interpreting the differences with other departments' statistics, saying other jurisdictions may report and process data differently.

However, IPR said several factors may explain the low rate of sustained use of force complaints. They include 'a lack of clarity' in bureau rules concerning when force may be used, as well as inconsistent standards among supervisors, and a bureau practice that does not take into account the officer's actions leading up to the use of force.

City Auditor Gary Blackmer, who oversees IPR, requested the use-of-force data last year after officials learned that the Portland Tribune had requested the same data. The Tribune published an article in October finding that force was reported an average of every 2.2 hours.

Meanwhile, the city formed a task force to do its own analysis. It was composed of two citizen members of the IPR Citizen Review Committee as well as several representatives of the Portland Police Bureau and IPR staff. It analyzed a time frame of Aug. 1, 2004 to Sept 30, 2006. In that span, 4,579 use-of-force reports were filed covering 3,903 incidents, 669 officers and 3,706 suspects.

The analysis did not include shootings; those have been analyzed by an outside consultant, the Police Assessment Resource Center, and have already led to substantial changes in the way the bureau handles such incidents.

Among task force's other findings:

• While the frequency of use of force in Portland is similar to that of other cities,'Portland officers report using force slightly more frequently than publicly reported by their peers in Minneapolis, San Diego, San Jose, and Seattle.'

• In 75 percent of the incidents, only one type of force was used. Overall, 83 percent of the reports involved a physical use of force, such as a 'control hold,' while 19 percent involved use of a taser, 17 percent involved a 'blunt impact strike' including knees, baton and flashlight, 7 percent involved pepper spray and 2 percent were non-lethal weapons such as a beanbag shotgun.

• The report found a high correlation between officers' rate of use of force and the number of complaints filed against them. In the two-year span, the report said, seven officers had received five or more force-related complaints.

• The report said 10 percent of Portland officers account for 39 percent of the total force incidents reported.

• The report also found that of the suspects on whom force was used, 37 percent were under the influence of alcohol, 19 percent were under the influence of drugs and 14 percent were reportedly mentally ill.

Sizer, in her memo accompanying the report, noted that Portland is one of only a few police departments that publicly reports on officers' use of force. She said that the analysis showed that officers have been 'forthcoming' with information 'and, in fact, seem to be overreporting.'

She said the bureau has agreed to work with Michigan State University on a National Institute of Justice-funded study of police use of force in eight American cities. The study will result in policy recommendations being issued nationally.


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