Portland Mayor Wants To Take Police Deadly Force Issue Before Court

By Conrad Wilson (OPB) and Kimberley Freda (OPB)
July 21, 2017 5:22 p.m.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler wants the City Council to ensure officers involved in deadly incidents talk to police investigators as soon as possible.

The mayor is expected to file an ordinance Friday that would compel officers to be interviewed within 48 hours of a deadly force incident.


As part of his efforts, the mayor also plans to ask a circuit court judge to rule on what the city can and cannot ask of officers under investigation.

Wheeler's decision comes amid controversy over the Portland Police Bureau's new use of deadly force policy that went into effect Friday. It effectively delays internal affairs interviews with officers who use deadly force, until after the Multnomah County district attorney completes a separate criminal investigation.

Critics of the policy have called on Wheeler — who oversees the bureau as the city's police commissioner — to intervene and prevent the policy from becoming official. His office has declined to do that.

Portland NAACP president Jo Ann Hardesty has said in the past that she finds the new policy "absolutely appalling."

“I find it inexcusable that they’re even proposing a policy that basically says, ‘Police don’t even have to tell you what happened until after the DA has cleared them,’” Hardesty said.

Wheeler's new ordinance seeks to address critics' concerns.


Police-reform advocates have urged the city for years to end what is commonly known as the "48-hour rule," a standard that allowed officers to wait two days after shootings and other violent incidents to talk to internal affairs investigators.

"I oppose the 48-hour rule. Officers who wrongly use deadly force should no longer wear a badge," Wheeler said in a statement Friday. "The previous council paid a steep price to eliminate the rule, and I want it gone forever."

Wheeler had campaigned for office in part on a platform of police reform and eliminating the 48-hour rule. However, it was abolished before he took office.

In their most recent contract negotiations with the city, Portland police officers agreed to give up the 48-hour rule in exchange for pay raises.

Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill published a legal analysis in March arguing the department shouldn't compel quick officer statements in internal affairs investigations.

Underhill warned that forcing officers to talk to internal affairs immediately could endanger separate criminal investigations into deadly incidents.

The DA's memo was based on a 1984 Oregon Supreme Court ruling. In it, Underhill advised the city to wait until criminal investigations are complete to conduct internal reviews that could lead to officers facing administrative punishments within the police bureau.

On Friday, Underhill put out a response to Wheeler's proposed ordinance.

"Because of my desire to get this right I support the city's efforts to have their administrative policies and practices reviewed by Oregon's courts," Underhill wrote in a statement.

Last week, Underhill said he supported efforts to change the court's ruling "because I think that would help the community’s confidence in our work."

Wheeler said the need for thorough and prompt investigations is “particularly acute” in deadly force cases and in the event of in-custody deaths.

Constantin Severe, the director of the city's Independent Police Review, called Wheeler's ordinance a "fitting" solution to a "complicating set of problems."

"The mayor's in a difficult position," Severe said. "It is the best he can do given the hand he's been given."
Wheeler's decision to allow the revised deadly force policies to go into effect on the same day he announced an ordinance that contradicts a key piece of it is part of the city's efforts to comply with the settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
"They need a policy now," Severe said. "The DOJ doesn't go away until the city is in substantial compliance."
The way that's decided is through annual assessments with U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon. The city and the DOJ have an assessment before Judge Simon in October.
"If the city had this huge hole in this very important part of the settlement agreement," Severe said, "there's no way the city could be in substantial compliance."