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City, feds file agreement on police use-of-force issues

Portland city officials and the U.S. Department of Justice filed a proposed settlement in federal court Monday that will change the way the Portland Police Bureau handles cases involving people with mental illnesses.

The settlement addresses allegations listed in a civil action, also filed Monday by federal prosecutors, that claims police have violated the constitutional rights of some people through the excessive use of force. The civil case alleges that the police bureau “engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force on individuals with actual or perceived mental illness by too frequently using a higher level of force than necessary; using electronic control weapons, commonly referred to as Tasers, in circumstances when such force is not justified, or deploying (the devices) more times than necessary on an individual; and using a higher degree of force than justified for low-level offenses.”

Once approved by a federal judge, the agreement will require changes in the police bureau’s policy, training, supervisory oversight, community-based mental health services, crisis intervention, employee information systems, officer accountability and community engagement and oversight.

Click here to read the city-federal joint agreement. (Beware: It is a large file.)

The agreement also calls for an independent compliance officer and community liaison, responsible for maintaining data about the bureau’s use of force and reporting his or her findings to the City Council, the federal justice department and the public.

The city reached a draft agreement with the federal agency in late October, after a 14-month justice department investigation into the police bureau’s policies and practices involving people with mental illnesses. Federal prosecutors began investigating the use of force issues in June 2011 and issued findings in September 2012. Portland’s City Council unanimously voted to approve the agreement on Nov. 14.