PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The Portland Police Bureau should at times express remorse for prior incidents of racial discrimination, make clear that participating in a hate group is a violation of bureau policy, and dedicate more resources to relationship-building with specific Portland communities. Those are just a few of the 28 recommendations made in a report that was released to the public Thursday.
The report, conducted by the OIR Group, came as a request from Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
The goal was for the group to assess three areas: community perception of racial bias, community perception of political bias and community perception that PPB is resistant to change.
OIR Group was asked to answer questions like, are PPB’s policies, culture, actions or outcomes driven by racial or political bias? If so, what is the extent of the bias and what are the root causes of it? How can those causes be addressed? Is PPB resistant to change sought by the community? And if so, what are the best practices to address that resistance?
The report was based on a survey of PPB employees, and individual interviews with bureau employees, elected officials and community members. OIR hoped to conduct a community survey but said logistical challenges prevented it from being completed in time for the planned release of the report in January 2022.
The report titled “An Independent Review of the Portland Police Bureau: Agency Culture, Community Perception, and Public Safety in a Time of Change” makes note of how PPB’s community perception may have changed since the protests that followed the death of George Floyd – an unarmed Black man who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. It acknowledges the June 2021 indictment of a PPB officer for alleged excessive force at a protest and the resignation of the entire Rapid Response Team that followed shortly after.
It also noted how the number of documented shootings and homicides have risen alarmingly in recent years with no consensus as to causes or solutions.
“The goal [of the report] was to achieve a better understanding of — and to constructively address — some of the troubling perceptions about the Bureau that had developed over time, and that unfortunately seemed more pronounced than ever,” the report states.
The report says its conclusions to the questions it was asked to answer are not definitive. The authors said they heard from Portland residents who said the bureau’s culture was irredeemably racist and heard from PPB members who insisted that bias against them was a reason for the heightened dysfunction in the city. The authors said it was persuaded by neither group, but said the starkly contrasting views were helpful and provided value and a frame for the range of insights that fell within them.
“Unequivocally, we also came away with the understanding that troubling community perceptions about bias have a foundation in history and in dynamics that exist today, and that grappling with them constructively should be a priority — as many PPB members are willing and able to acknowledge,” the report stated.
On the whole, the report says PPB members rejected any narrative that framed the agency as racially discriminatory or that their political views influenced their handling of certain situations or their treatment of specific groups.
However, the report found studies showing disparate treatment toward people of color, proving that the bureau is not color blind.
While speaking to PPB members, the report authors learned that morale at the bureau is low and that officers are disappointed with their management and leaders. They were disappointed people at the management level, but at City Hall and in the field, had not been more consistently “front and center” in dealing with the protests.
PPB members also acknowledged a lack of meaningful community ties and withering relationships with people most connected to grassroots neighborhood concerns.
Within the community, the report found there is deep suspicion about the accuracy of information the Portland Police Bureau sends out and concerns about information it withholds.
The report states that the overwhelming success of the 2020 ballot measure calling for a new independent oversight committee for Portland law enforcement also shows the public is skeptical about the bureau’s commitments to accountability. However, the report says the proposed model is ambitious. It’s being implemented slowly, but hopefully, it will fulfill the voters’ goals.
The report authors also hope that the city government will work constructively with members of PPB and receive their input in the reaction of the 20-member “ReThink Police Accountability Commission.”
Below is the complete list of the 28 recommendations made by the report:
- Bureau leadership should at appropriate times express formal contrition for prior episodes of racially discriminatory conduct.
- New officers should be exposed to the prior discriminatory and racially charged conduct of Bureau officers in recent history and express messaging that such conduct will no longer be tolerated.
- The Bureau should continue to produce updated statistical dashboards relevant to racial disparity issues to increase transparency and show changes over time, and use these dashboards as part of regular communications with the community.
- In its regular use of force analysis, the Bureau should identify any patterns of practice that may result in disparate uses of force specifically on persons of color.
- The Bureau should regularly analyze use of force data, broken down by neighborhood or precinct and officer, to determine if there are trends or patterns of practice that might indicate a need for specific additional training, counseling, or discipline.
- The Bureau should modify its directive on political activity by members to align its prohibitions with the parameters of Oregon election law.
- The Bureau should ensure that its background investigators thoroughly examine all applicants’ social media posts and should eliminate from hiring consideration anyone found to have links to extremist groups or to have posted any communications associating themselves with racist viewpoints.
- Consistent with state law, the Bureau should modify its directives to make clear that membership or participation in hate groups, racial supremacist organizations, militant groups, or posting on social media any communications associated with racist viewpoints is a violation of Bureau policy.
- The Bureau should revise its disciplinary guidelines so that officers who associate with hate groups, racial supremacist organizations or militant groups, or display, make, or post on social media any statements or displays of racism or racial supremacy will be potentially subject to discharge.
- The Bureau and/or the Independent Police Review Division should thoroughly investigate, to the extent permissible by law, all allegations that a Bureau member is associated with an extremist group or has posted on social media any communications associated with racist viewpoints.
- The Bureau should seek out opportunities to offer constructive contributions to the City’s pending process of developing a new oversight model.
- The Bureau and/or the Independent Police Review Division should create a process for tracking the response to and implementation of recommendations for reform made by outside entities, and should regularly report to the public about progress on these measures.
- Any body-worn camera policy must be consistent with best investigative practices, including obtaining a “pure statement” from officers in force and misconduct investigations prior to showing them the audio/video account.
- The Bureau should continue to strive for a diverse recruitment and hiring program and should emphasize diversity of relevant life experiences, to include a reassessment of criteria that automatically excludes persons who otherwise might be excellent police officers.
- The Bureau should consider ways to employ innovative methods for recruiting new officers, including financial incentives for officers, professional Bureau staff, and City employees and creating a designated, diverse squad of recruiters who are motivated to find new ways to connect with potential applicants.
- The Bureau should modify its interview process for prospective officers to include a community member on each oral board panel.
- The Bureau should consider adding to its hiring process a required ride along with a designated officer and a one-on-one interview with the Chief or a top executive.
- The Bureau should move forward with its plan to employ a civilian Academic Director for its Training Division and should empower that individual to reassess existing training programs to ensure a student-centered approach to learning that meaningfully addresses the realities of policing in Portland.
- The Academic Director should assess the Advanced Academy training curriculum and whether its overarching philosophy could be better aligned to community expectations for public safety in Portland. The Director should report to the public the outcome of this evaluation.
- The Bureau should work to enhance its relationship with existing advisory groups and look for opportunities to educate and collaborate as well as respond to initiatives in more comprehensive and accountable ways.
- The Bureau should dedicate more resources to reinforcing effective strategies for relationship-building within specific Portland communities – a path that requires sustained and repeated outreach over time.
- The Bureau should pursue programs that build community bridges at the neighborhood level, including the use of localized patrol teams and the organized cultivation of relationships with a range of community representatives.
- PPB should work to ensure the effective approaches of its current “Community Engagement” officer are reinforced by providing that position with the requisite authority and resources, and by committing to the development of established directives and strategic plans that will promote the longer-term sustainability of the unit.
- The Bureau should develop ways to incorporate into its Academy training a community-based program focused on non-law enforcement social service work aimed at reinforcing the importance of building relationships within Portland’s diverse communities.
- Bureau leadership should continue to support a collaborative approach to public health and public safety through its Community Safety Director and should help the City define how PPB resources can be deployed in focused ways to address issues (including violent crime) that require the unique skills of law enforcement.
- The City should continue its efforts to create a more effective Public Safety communication structure, with greater coordination among bureaus and ongoing collaboration with the Police Bureau to ensure it is appropriately funded and staffed to be able to more effectively communicate with the public.
- The Bureau should periodically evaluate how modifications to policing strategies, such as focusing traffic enforcement on moving violations, impact the current racial disparities, and report on this progress.
- We encourage the City to incorporate questions into its next “Portland Insights” survey that would track community perceptions of PPB culture and practices, particularly with regard to racial and political bias, and resistance to change and other reform efforts.
OIR Group is submitting the report to Portland City Council for consideration.
OIR Group is led by Michael Gennaco, a former federal prosecutor and a nationally recognized leader in the field of police oversight.
Read the full OIR Group report “An Independent Review of the Portland Police Bureau: Agency Culture, Community Perception, and Public Safety in a Time of Change” below: