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

Police Administration/
Internal Affairs Division

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In March 1995, the Internal Investigations Division was revamped and renamed as the Internal Affairs Division. Observers claim that its investigations have improved since that time.

During 1995, IAD received a total of 634 complaints, and in 1996 that number dropped to 506.39 Use of force complaints made up approximately 19 percent of the total during both years (113 complaints in 1995 and ninety-nine in 1996). In the data provided by the IAD to Human Rights Watch, sustained rates and other disposition types are not broken down by complaint type, but out of the closedcomplaints as of the end of 1995, less than 6 percent were sustained, and about 5.5 percent were sustained in 1996 (with many cases still pending). In U.S. cities, excessive force cases are commonly sustained at lower levels than other types of complaints (such as drug-related offenses, theft, procedure offenses), making it likely that the IAD is sustaining a very low percentage of excessive force cases. Indeed, according to the information provided in the PIIAC's first two quarterly reports for 1997, the IAD was sustaining about 1 percent of the use of force complaints it received. (See above.)

The department has initiated a "command review," an early warning system that triggers a review of officers who receive five complaints within a year, or three in six months, or two of the same type in six months. A review also occurs if two complaints are sustained in a year's time. Risk management data are not used in this review, even if a lawsuit is settled or judged in favor of a complainant alleging serious physical abuse. During 1997, fifty-five officers were reviewed.40

Chief Moose, in explaining why risk management data are not used, as suggested by PIIAC, stated, "I have not been able to determine a way to utilize Risk Management Information to label employees as problem officers. Tort claim notices do not contain all of the facts and I do not think it is fair to attempt to determine the involvement of an individual without examining all of the facts." The chief went on to cite attorney-client privilege as a barrier, stating, "without that information [protected by attorney-client privilege] I can only record that someone has complained about something and that it may involve some Portland Police employees in some way."41 It is unclear to Human Rights Watch why a public document such as a tort claim, which describes alleged misconduct involving named officers, dates, and locations cannot be used to initiate a preliminary investigation by IAD staff, or why civil lawsuits settled or judged in favor of a plaintiff cannot be used as part of command review.

A grand jury reviews all shootings by Portland police officers. Precincts investigate more "minor" cases, with major cases staying with IAD. In PIIAC's April 1996 report, it states that police officials determined that IAD would handle all use of force complaints, rather than sending them to precincts for investigations. This change followed a recommendation by PIIAC based on its concerns regarding potential conflict of interest and consistency of investigative quality at the precinct-level. If a complaint is sustained, IAD sends it to the police chief for disciplinary action, if warranted. The chief can impose discipline short of dismissal, but only themayor can fire an officer.42 No officer was dismissed as a result of an excessive force incident during 1997.43

An IAD representative states that files are purged after a year, except in sustained cases, and officers can request a purge of sustained complaints after five years.44 He claimed that most supervisors do not want to deal with problem officers, and firing them is made difficult by civil service protections, so officers are transferred or ignored instead, or sometimes promoted.45

39 According to data provided by IAD to Human Rights Watch, February 3, 1997.

40 Telephone interview, Capt. Bill Bennington, IAD, January 23, 1998.

41 December 20, 1995 memo to Mayor Vera Katz from Chief Moose.

42 Interview with Lt. Ron Webber, IAD, September 21, 1995.

43 Telephone interview, Capt. Bill Bennington, IAD, January 23, 1998.

44 Interview with Lt. Ron Webber, IAD, September 21, 1995.

45 Ibid.

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© June 1998
Human Rights Watch