HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States

Civilian Review
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Portland's citizen review mechanism, the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC), was created in 1982.29 City Council members make up PIIAC, with investigations conducted by PIIAC `s citizen advisors, who are volunteers drawn largely from neighborhood associations. They do not conduct independent investigations of complaints received by PIIAC, but instead meet once a month to hear appeals from citizens dissatisfied with police internal investigations of their complaints and to perform random audits of internal investigations and review all closed use of force cases. Their review is limited to determining whether a completeand unbiased investigation took place, rather than deciding a case's merit. If they believe the investigation was sub-standard, they may request that IAD conduct a more thorough investigation. When an individual appeals IAD's findings, the PIIAC may re-examine the investigation and the city council may rule the complaint sustained. When a complaint is sustained, the police chief makes all disciplinary decisions.30

PIIAC's citizen advisors submit quarterly reports to the mayor and City Council, highlighting shortcomings in the investigations and abuse trends and recommending reforms. The reports also include IAD statistics regarding complaints received and their status.

After more than decade during which critics believed the PIIAC was not functioning properly and that investigations by the Internal Affairs Division (formerly Internal Investigations Division) were flawed, many in the community pushed for stronger independent review of the police. PIIAC was revised to give it a larger role in reviewing IAD investigations of complaints alleging police brutality or other misconduct. The mayor also appointed a full-time paid PIIAC staff auditor in July 1994.31

The PIIAC citizen advisors reviewed a total of twenty-seven appeals in 1995, affirming the police bureau's decision in fifteen; PIIAC's earlier reports did not always indicate which types of complaints were appealed.

In 1996, the advisors reviewed twenty-three appeals. They affirmed the PPB's findings in seventeen cases; two were returned to the IAD for additional investigation; two were pending at the time of the quarterly reports; and in two cases the PIIAC recommended that the PPB sustain the complaints that had not been sustained by IAD investigators originally, including one that was reported as a use of force complaint in the fourth quarter report. In that case, the IAD originally declined the case (which precludes additional investigation, formal findings, or record in the officer's complaint history) after a preliminary investigation, but the citizen advisors sided with the appellant, and PIIAC voted to accept the citizen advisors' recommendations, leading the IAD to send the case for adjudication. PIIAC cautioned the IAD against declining use of force cases, noting that one case it had randomly reviewed involved a man with serious injuries sustained during transport to jail, but because the arrestee's account differed with the officers'accounts, the case was declined.32 It was not possible to track PIIAC's review of all use of force complaints or their outcomes, because although PIIAC advisors monitored use of force investigations, their quarterly reports did not always separate appealed and monitored cases.

In 1997, PIIAC revised its reporting to incorporate breakdowns for all categories of appeals and reviews, and included brief descriptions of the allegations considered; community activists had long urged that this information be included.33 During the first half of 1997, citizen advisors reviewed a total of ten new appeals, affirming IAD's findings in six cases, while three cases were pending and one appeal was withdrawn. And during the same period, the advisors monitored thirty-nine closed use of force investigations, showing that IAD had sustained just four - a roughly 1 percent sustained rate. In one case, a chokehold was used by an officer to subdue a suspect, and it was revealed that revised bureau policies had neglected to note that chokeholds were deadly force, meaning that IAD, rather than the district attorney and a grand jury, had made determinations on chokehold incidents until the first quarter of 1997.34

According to PIIAC and IAD, sometimes IAD receives a complaint, investigates the incident, and finds the officer responsible for an offense other than the one described in the complaint. For example, while an individual's complaint that an officer used excessive force may be found not sustained by the IAD, IAD will find another offense occurred, such as not reporting the use of force. PIIAC has expressed concern that while complainants receive notification that a complaint was sustained, IAD does not explain that the offense reported in the original complaint was not the offense sustained, thus misinforming the complainant.

PIIAC's mandate includes analysis of civil lawsuits against the police (risk management data), but it has expressed concern that IAD does not use these data as part of the "command review" for purposes of identifying officers with repeated complaints of abuse. In its May 1995 report, PIIAC wrote, "the Portland Police Bureau has assured the advisory committee that they [sic] are working on ways to better utilize risk management information; however, we see no evidence that the information is being used for command review purposes as mandated by the mayor's police/citizen accountability initiative....Command Review would be moreeffective if it could tap the information that comes through risk management."35 A PIIAC spokesperson told Human Rights Watch that the agency receives copies of lawsuits filed against the city or bureau, alleging brutality or other misconduct by officers, and that certain names come up repeatedly in those suits.36

Some civilian review experts believe the PIIAC auditor system is working better than other cities' review boards with broader responsibilities. Civilian review expert Sam Walker sees "...the promise of some real progress with the auditor model that I don't quite see with other traditional civilian complaint review boards."37 Even the police union has approved of PIIAC's approach. The former president of the local police union was quoted as stating, "It gives them [citizens] a window to look in there to be sure that this isn't a secret room...where we're in ninja suits conducting some secret cover-up. We can't cover up...."38 Others believe that PIIAC fully utilizes its mandate but that, without the ability to receive initial complaints, conduct its own independent investigation, or recommend discipline in sustained cases, it is overly reliant on the police bureau's cooperation. These concerns are reinforced by the fact that, no matter what the PIIAC finds, the police chief is under no obligation to accept its findings, despite its neutral examination of the same facts reviewed by the IAD in making its determination.

29 A ballot initiative was presented to voters in 1982 by opponents of citizen review. The police union opposed the City Council's creation of PIIAC and dramatically outspent PIIAC supporters. Nonetheless, the ballot initiative opposing PIIAC failed by the slimmest of margins. John Snell and Phil Manzano, "Police watchdog lacks bite?" Oregonian, April 28, 1992. According to its staff auditor, PIIAC is the only civilian review mechanism in the state of Oregon.

30 PIIAC is also overseeing the pilot mediation project, but only one case was mediated in 1996.

31 Interview with PIIAC staff auditor Lisa Botsko, September 22, 1995.

32 PIIAC 1996 fourth-quarter report.

33 Correspondence with Portland Copwatch, January 22, 1998.

34 PIIAC 1997 first-quarter report.

35 Ibid.

36 Telephone interview with Lisa Botsko, PIIAC staff auditor, January 1997.

37 National Public Radio's Morning Edition, July 31, 1997, quoting Sam Walker.

38 Ibid., quoting PPB Sgt. Jeff Barker of the Internal Affairs Division. Another effort at transparency, led by community activists, resulted, in most cases, in the opening of appeal hearings to the public.

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© June 1998
Human Rights Watch