PPB Makes 'Significant Progress' In Use Of Force Reforms

By Amelia Templeton (OPB)
Oct. 22, 2015 3 a.m.

Portland police officers are using their fists, batons, Tasers and guns significantly less than they did five years ago.

That was among the findings presented to U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon in an update Wednesday about ongoing reforms the Portland Police Bureau is making.

The city agreed to reforms in a 2012 settlement agreement after the U.S. Department of Justice found Portland police had a pattern of using unconstitutional force, particularly against people with mental illness.

In Wednesday's meeting, both the city and a team of independent consultants that are monitoring compliance with the settlement reported progress.

"Significant progress is being made and the city is acting in good faith," said Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum, who leads the compliance team.

Officers' use of force dropped between 2010 and 2014, and force is used in just 2.4 percent of arrests, according to Deputy City Attorney Ellen Osoinach.

"The numbers can help to give confidence to the community that the use of force is happening in very limited cases," she said.

But Rosenbaum noted that the team had yet to receive more recent 2015 data from the police bureau, due to glitches it encountered implementing a new record system. That's led to a backlog entering thousands of incident reports.

Rosenbaum's team praised the work of the bureau's Behavioral Health Unit, which pairs beat officers with mental health social workers.

But the compliance team also identified a number of challenges that remain. The city is required to reach substantial compliance with the settlement by October 2017.


The consultants said studies of police bureaus nationwide have shown a small group of inexperienced officers tend to be responsible for a disproportionate number of complaints. The Portland Police Bureau is not doing enough to identify those officers and intervene with them, Rosenbaum said.

Another major sticking point in implementing the settlement is the so-called 48-hour rule, which gives officers who are involved in a shooting 48 hours before they have to answer questions about it.

Portland Police Chief Larry O'Dea

Portland Police Chief Larry O'Dea

Allison Frost / OPB

The Department of Justice, the compliance team, and the Albina Ministerial Alliance for Justice and Police Reform all criticized the rule and said it undermines accountability and public trust in the police.

Commanding officers at the bureau voted to get rid of the 48-hour rule in their latest contract, but the rule is still part of the union contract for rank and file officers. That contract is valid until 2017.

Portland Police Chief Larry O'Dea listened intently during the hearing.

Judge McShane at one point thanked O'Dea for the public statements he has made in support of the reform process.

During a break in the meeting, O'Dea got up to talk one-on-one with several members of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, and greeted them each with a hug.