DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE INQUIRY
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U.S. Justice Department lawyers have urged Portland police to drop their "us vs. them'' mentality in officer training after observing the bureau's annual weeklong refresher training for its force.
They also recommended that the bureau minimize use of military combat photos in active-shooter training, include community volunteers in scenario-based instruction and find a way to allow residents to share their perspectives about their experiences with officers as part of training.
"As an overarching concern, we observed at several points PPB instructors reinforced a sense of PPB being on the opposite side of the public whom they police and serve,'' the federal civil rights lawyers wrote.
The federal review of training is the latest critique of police practices since the Justice Department found in 2012 that Portland police engaged in a pattern of excessive force against people with mental illness. The federal investigation also found that Portland police fired multiple cycles of stun guns unnecessarily and failed to wait between cycles to allow a suspect to follow their commands.
A negotiated settlement reached with the city and approved by a federal judge in August 2014 calls for a wide range of changes to police policies, training and oversight and regular reviews by the Justice Department.
Training Capt. Bryan Parman said the letter from the federal lawyers is helpful to provide "the Police Bureau with additional clarity on the requirements of the agreement."
He said the bureau has made substantial changes since the settlement and will continue over the years to make sure that police fully adopt its provisions.
The Rev. Leroy Haynes, chair of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, and the Rev. T. Allen Bethel, coalition co-chair, thanked the Justice Department for keeping their eye on police training. The coalition was granted friend of the court status and allowed to provide input on the settlement agreement.
"The DOJ has hit on many points the coalition and members of the community have been concerned about for a long time,'' Haynes and Bethel wrote to the federal department.
While the federal officials were impressed with the bureau's new training center off Northeast Airport Way, its defensive tactics training and scenario-based training, their review found lapses in instruction and made these recommendations to the city attorney's office:
-- Police trainers should incorporate a review of bureau policies when teaching tactics or technical skills, whether it's on the use of Tasers or providing emergency medical care to a wounded suspect. The review found bureau training on less-lethal weapons rushed and incomplete.
"As much as possible, technical skills should be trained in the context of the policy governing those skills,'' the federal assessment said.
-- The bureau should better examine whether officers have learned the material. The bureau didn't use written, individual quizzes on policy or tactics to determine each officer's competency or set any measures to determine if officers learned the material, the review found.
In one class, instructors gave an eight-question quiz on the bureau's use of force policy, but officers didn't write their names on the quizzes. Similarly, the bureau asked officers to fill out a survey anonymously regarding the weeklong training.
Written on the survey was a note to officers that it could be subject to a public records request. "That admonition seems intended to discourage criticism,'' the federal review said.
-- Bureau training on its use of force policy needs updating. The bureau distributed an easy-to-carry card to officers on the policy to keep in their pockets or wallets, but the card already is out of date, the federal attorneys noted. The reviewers also found the card confusing.
-- The week's 40-hour training devotes significant time to firearms refresher instruction, but the review said the training should give more emphasis to officers' decision-making skills and understanding of policy.
The bureau "could and should re-enforce the concepts of de-escalation and rendering aid to a subject during the firearms training, rather than focusing solely on technical skills,'' the review found.
-- In one of the deadly-force scenario training exercises, the reviewers expressed concern about the long delay before officers moved in to provide emergency aid to the wounded suspect.
They discussed their concern with Police Chief Larry O'Dea.
O'Dea told them that the bureau's policy has improved. Now, officers wait for a supervisor to respond to the scene with a tactical shield so officers can approach a suspect safely, he said. They used to require the callout of the bureau's Special Emergency Response Team, which could take 45 minutes. Supervisors carry shields in their police cars, cutting down on the response time, O'Dea told the federal officials.
Federal civil rights attorneys said in the review that the change still may not meet the settlement's requirement for police to provide aid as soon as possible. They also pointed out that even with the tactical shield, some officers remained just as exposed to potential harm as they would have been if they immediately gave aid.
-- Maxine Bernstein