The Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC)

In the late 1970's and early '80s, rising tensions between the Portland Police and communities of color led City Commissioner Charles Jordan to convene a citizen panel to study police review. In 1982, this panel, the Storres Commission, drew up a charter for a citizen review panel similar to the present Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC). The plan was that a citizen's board would perform their review and City Council would take action if necessary. But before City Council voted on the proposal, an unrelated but alarming event occurred. Several Portland police officers tried to racially intimidate a Black business owner by throwing a dead possum on the porch of the business. The ensuing public uproar ensured that City Council would adopt the proposed charter, though they did make some amendments to weaken PIIAC. In response, the police union placed the charter on the November 1982 ballot and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat the measure. In spite of the police union's efforts, the Portland voters decided to keep the police review system in place.

After the public and the media had forgotten the "possum incident", PIIAC slipped out of the news. Although a man died in 1985 as a result of the "sleeper hold" used on him by a Portland police officer, the only response was a series of public forums on the use of force by the police; PIIAC did not become involved. Busy with other issues, City Council exercised little of the oversight power that the Storres Commission had envisioned. The citizens' board was left alone, with little to do.

In 1987, many PIIAC civilian members became frustrated with the group's lack of power. They held public meetings to discuss changes in PIIAC's structure but got little response from the public or City Hall. Ultimately, several PIIAC members turned in their resignation simultaneously, citing the group's ineffectiveness. In response, City Council amended the PIIAC charter in January 1989. While the changes did not give the police review system more teeth, they did put much less of the bureaucratic burden on City Council. Now the City Council's abandonment of PIIAC had been etched into law, and the Council could ignore the citizens' board with a clear conscience.

Only recently, in the wake of several unfortunate incidents-- including the shooting of Nathan Thomas -- and after growing pressure from organizations like POPSG, have City Council and PIIAC become more focused on establishing true police accountability. The articles gathered in this section discuss civilian review of police both theoretically and in direct relation to Portland and its current system.

[]Previous page
Table of Contents
Proposal for an Effective Review Board page 1
Return to Copwatch home page