City Council Receives Report on Police Deadly Force without Public Testimony


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Fri, 02/16/2018 - 5:00pm to 5:30pm
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KBOO: Yesterday, Portland City Council—well, three-fifths of the council—was presented with a report on six police shootings. The report was investigated and written by the OIR Group out of Los Angeles, and included recommendations for increased accountability. It is the sixth report the OIR Group has submitted to the city at the request of the City Auditor, the first being specifically focused on the in-custody death of James Chasse. After that report, the group was tapped to write a series of reports systematically examining officer-involved shootings in Portland. Group member Julie Ruhlin here explains to the council the scope of the current report, which can be viewed on the Independent Police Review website.

JULIE RUHLIN: This report, um, we talk about six officer involved shootings. Two of those were fatal shootings, three of them resulted in injuries to the person being shot at, and one of them was a non-hit shooting, which nonetheless received the same level of scrutiny, um, from the Bureau, and the same level of review from us.

KBOO: One thing the council did not hear yesterday was public testimony. Dan Handelman, of Portland Copwatch, told KBOO before the session that the city council heard testimony after each of the previous reports were presented, taking issue with the mayor’s rationale for disallowing public testimony. A sign outside council chambers referred to a section of Portland City Code [PCC 3.02.040 G.5.A] for the reasoning behind not allowing testimony. Handelman took issue with this, including during a testy exchange with Mayor Wheeler before the meeting began, pointing out that the relevant section of city code actually reads that, during a report presentation, "the presiding officer shall determine whether public testimony shall be received and the amount of time which shall be allotted to each person." Wheeler—the presiding officer—did not offer much in the way of explanation for his choice, and remained firm as the session began. He also issued his now-common admonition that anyone acting disruptive would be subject to arrest and removal.

On a somehwat unrelated note, there were about eight police officers in the audience, fully armed despite being there for the purpose of answering the council’s questions. They included Chief Danielle Outlaw, Internal Affairs Captain Jeff Bell and Training Division Commander Bob Day, among other ranking officers. The police nearly outnumbered community members—the session was sparsely attended overall, with perhaps thirty people in the room, most of them city employees.

Two representatives of the OIR Group were in attendance, Michael Gennaco and Julie Ruhlin. KBOO reporter Jasmin Moneymaker spoke with Gennaco on Tuesday, an interview available in abridged form at Yesterday, Gennaco laid out the ideal scope and goals of an investigation into a use of deadly force.

MICHAEL GENNACO: One, and this is a District Attorney responsibility eventually, but to determine whether or not the actions of the officers run afoul of state law with regard to use of force, but also to evaluate the incident to determine whether or not the incident is consistent with the expectations of the police agency itself, is consistent with the directives of that police agency, is consistent with the way in which the officer who uses deadly force has been trained, and also whether the act itself and all the events leading up to the act and subsequent to the incident are carefully reviewed to determine 1) what happened, 2) is there a way we can do better--with the idea that that kind of holistic review, introspection, reflection and identification of remedial measures including accountability, training, policy development, can help lessen the likelihood that a similar deadly force incident will occur. Will we get to zero? I think that is ultimately the goal, of getting to zero. Will it happen overnight? No. But, we can say that, in our estimation as reflected in this report and in our past reports, of the 41 shootings we have reviewed in the course of our responsibilities here, that there has been a trend line that has been optimistic.

The report ends with twenty-six recommendations for the Bureau to improve its investigations, as well as a response from Chief Outlaw agreeing with ALL of them. This is a first, at least for OIR’s reports—the previous five reports, including that on the Chasse case, saw former Chief Reese disagreeing with a few recommendations. Two of the reports lack itemized responses from the bureau entirely.

It remains to be seen how committed the chief and her command staff are to implementing these recommendations, though they made a good show of it yesterday.

CHIEF OUTLAW: We are sincerely trying to not only build bridges, but to enhance our transparency, and to show that we truly are genuine and that we want to get it right,

Probably the most well-known adopted recommendation of the OIR Group was that the city scrap the "48-hour rule," which prevented investigators from interviewing an officer involved in a shooting for 48 hours after the incident. The rule was scrapped in late 2016, during collective bargaining with the Portland Police Association (and again, early last year, after it was discovered that a loophole extended this no-interview period, potentially by months).

As said earlier, no public testimony was allowed at the session, though Commissioner Fish and Mayor Wheeler did ask some questions of their own to the OIR Group, Chief Outlaw, and Captain Bell, as well as questions submitted by citizens, such as the League of Women Voters. The only other commissioner present, Chloe Eudaly, remained silent. Commissioners Saltzman and Fritz were absent, meaning there was no quorum to vote on whether or not to override Wheeler and allow public comment.

On that note, Michael Gennaco of the OIR group wrapped up his testimony with a nod to citizen input.

GENNACO: Something that we absolutely benefit from when we come up to visit you all, is our ability to interface with your community. Because while the community may not be experts--some are becoming experts--on police practices, they certainly provide an important perspective,  and give us a better and general and broader understanding of the concerns of your community, and that dialogue that we're able to have, only makes our report, I think,  more informed. So I appreciate their work and their willingness to meet with us on a regular basis. 

KBOO was able to talk with a few of the folks who showed up having prepared testimony to read. Two of them are Kalei and Ted Luyben, citizen activists present at many of these hearings, and asked what they would have said given the chance:

KALEI LUYBEN: My interest is really in having people learn. That's what's big: the learning process. And human being learn from human beings--not from statistics and not from dehumanization. So, the real implication then for me is, if the police officers do not receive procedural justice within the Bureau, they're never gonna extend it to us in the community. And we know we desperately need that. So, I'd just like to just simply share the concept of procedural justice all across the board, everybody--police, community, all of us.

The next OIR report on Portland police uses of deadly force is expected in August.

--Sam Bouman, KBOO Portland

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