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Audit: Police learning but could do better

New audit look at Portland Police Bureau's organizational learning ability

Although the Portland Police Bureau has improved its organizational ability to learn over the past 20 years, there is still room for improvement, according to an audit released Tuesday by the City Auditor's Office.

The audit says that few organizational goals are more important than continually improving service delivery.

'This is especially critical for the Police Bureau's 1,000 sworn employees who are responsible for enforcing the law, are sometimes in potentially dangerous situations, and are given the authority to use force if appropriate. Mistakes can mean the difference between life and death for an officer or a community member,' City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade wrote in the introduction to the audit.

According to the audit, the bureau has continuously improved its organizational learning over the past two because of increased internal reviews and outside consultants.

'We found there is no shortage of review processes in place, both internal and external, to review police actions and to recommend improvements. We also found the Bureau has made significant improvements in review and assessment systems over the past few years. The Bureau has been responsive to recommendations of outside experts and to ones made by internal review panels,' says the audit, titled 'Portland Police Bureau learning: Improvements needed to strengthen existing processes.'

But the audit also found bureau employees believe there is room for improvement - something the auditors agreed with.

'However, officers who responded to our survey and in interviews reported that improvements could be made to some aspects of the Bureau's learning process. We also believe a number of issues negatively affect the Bureau's efforts to collect information and achieve better results from its learning efforts: loss of experience in key positions because of excessive turnover; a lack of timeliness in investigating cases of alleged officer misconduct and in implementing important personnel accountability systems; a need for an easily understood, accepted framework, such as a matrix, to provide guidance to help consistently apply discipline; and a need for regular employee performance reviews,' the audit says.

The audit made the following suggestions for improvement:

• Implement annual individual performance assessments.

• Implement a disciplinary matrix as a guideline for more consistent disciplinary decisions and a means of communicating expectations to employees.

• Produce regular management reports on the effectiveness and use of the Employee Information System.

• Research and implement efforts to reduce turnover in key positions.

• Strengthen the cultural learning environment by addressing issues identified in our employee survey: providing additional training time for employees as appropriate and as funds become available; fostering a better atmosphere to encourage suggestions from employees; and encouraging upper level managers to spend more time in the field.

• Explore ways to speed investigations of incidents and at a minimum give explicit, written authority to one person to

advocate for the timely and thorough completion of officer conduct investigations.

• Improve accountability and oversight for the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) by continuing internal reviews, as reported by the Bureau, and by establishing a process to independently review SERT training.

In a written response, Mayor Sam Adams thanked the auditor's office and said the bureau was continuously making operational improvement.

The audit is available under audit services on the auditor's website at www.portlandonline.com/auditor