After a year of study, the People Overseeing Police Study Group (POPSG) has concluded that Portland's current system for handling complaints of police misconduct is inadequate. In addition, insufficient opportunity exists for independent review of police policies and training procedures.
Law enforcement agencies have historically objected to effective oversight by civilians. However, in this era of community policing, where the emphasis is on police accountability and building positive police-community relations, independent civilian review is in everyone's interests.
Properly conceived, a system of independent review yields numerous benefits, among them: 1) better government through effective checks and balances; 2) improved police management; 3) more effective investigation of each complaint filed; 4) greater accountability public access to information about police conduct; and 5) public trust in the police force. Independent review creates a more open, public system that allows the police to do better self- assessment and facilitates the trusting, positive relationship between civilians and law enforcement which is a goal of community policing.
Some will argue that Portland already has a system of civilian review. However, in the present system the agency with the authority to receive and investigate complaints is the Portland Police Bureau's own Internal Investigations Division (IID). IID's lack of independence, along with its low rate of sustaining complaints, impairs public trust. The body assigned to review police investigations and policies--the board of citizen advisors to the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC)--lacks both the authority and the resources to provide effective oversight. As a result, the present system yields few, if any, of the benefits of true civilian review.
We propose that a Board be appointed which reflects Portland's ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity. This Board will meet regularly to hear from a team of independent investigators who receive and investigate all formally filed charges of police misconduct. Complaints will be taken at Portland neighborhood coalition offices and at the investigators' office.
Investigators will present each case and their conclusions at a meeting of the Board. Board members will have the ability to review cases in depth and may require the parties involved to testify before them. The Board will have the final determination on all findings and recommendations. All meetings and hearings will be open to the public. All records of the Board, including minutes and documents presented to the Board, will be public.
There will be several options for handling cases. The investigators may suggest that all parties voluntarily commit to having their case resolved through mediation. This system will be used to resolve minor complaints of officer misconduct and will reduce the number of full-scale investigations carried out by investigators. If mediation does not occur, a thorough investigation will follow. When the investigation is complete, the investigator will propose a conclusion to the Board: to find no misconduct, to dismiss for insufficient evidence, or to sustain the complaint. The Board will review the investigation and may hold its own hearing if needed. Then the Board will forward its conclusions, with recommendations for discipline when appropriate, to the Chief of Police, the City Council, and the complainant.
While the Board and its investigators will have the power to carry out an investigation, including the subpoena of testimony and physical evidence, they will not be able to require the disciplining of officers. Similarly, the Board may recommend, but not require, changes in police policy. The matters of discipline and policy making remain in the hands of the Chief of Police. To ensure accountability, the Chief of Police will report to the Board and the public on what action (if any) has been taken on their recommendations.
Although no plan is perfect, our research indicates that adopting the POPSG model will lead to an open, streamlined venue for civilians with complaints, which will result in greater police efficiency, increased public trust, and a more livable city.
Table of Contents
Proposal for an Effective Review Board page 1
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