The Portland Police Bureau has reached a significant milestone in its six-year-old settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
On Friday, the bureau announced that the DOJ had found the police force to be in “substantial compliance” with the 2014 agreement intended to reform how the force responded to people with “actual or perceived mental illness.”
The Justice Department reached the agreement with the Portland Police after the DOJ found officers exhibited a pattern of using excessive force on people experiencing mental illnesses. The settlement laid out in detail the changes the bureau needed to make to its use of force procedures.
According to Portland city attorney Tracy Reeve, the term “substantial compliance” is a lawyerly way of saying the city has met all the terms laid out in the 77-page agreement – while leaving a tiny bit of wiggle room.
“It means the city has, in essence, complied with its obligations under the settlement agreement,” Reeve said at a news conference Friday announcing the finding. “It could be you’re 99.5 percent compliant with something, but in some ways, there’s some very minor technical noncompliance.”
The compliance finding doesn’t end the DOJ’s oversight of the Portland Police Bureau. The bureau still has to prove it can maintain all the reforms it’s made for one year.
Mayor Ted Wheeler applauded the police bureau Friday for the work they’d done to reach this point.
“The true test of any organization or any person for that matter is how they respond to the challenges at hand, especially one that can be difficult to hear or to acknowledge when challenged to do better, be better and evolve,” he said.
“The Portland Police Bureau answered the call.”
But police reform activist Dan Handelman, who runs Portland Copwatch, said while the bureau may have answered the call regarding technical aspects of the agreement – like the rules regarding policies and training, data collection and analysis – the bureau had ignored the “thrust” of the document: rebuilding trust between police officers and the community.
“We did what we’d said we’d do, minimally to the letter of what’s being written down,” he said. “Not to the spirit of it.”
He added that he felt the finding of compliance did not wholly square with the fact that fatal police shootings of people with mental illness have continued in Portland. Koben Henriksen, a 51-year-old man who suffered from schizophrenia, was shot by police last month.
At Friday’s news conference, Chief Jami Resch said the agreement is about officers knowing how to minimize these kinds of shootings - not to eliminate them altogether.
“A common misconception is that substantial compliance with the settlement agreement will result in zero officer-involved shootings,” she said. “Being in compliance means that we have done everything to minimize using force on those experiencing mental illness. We will continue to seek ways to minimize the use of deadly force.”