January 19th, 2011 | by STACY BROWNHILL News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, City Hall, Cops and Courts

Portlanders Go to the Table with Police Bureau

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Despite a spate of Portland police shootings in about a month, the tone at tonight's Community and Police Relations Committee meeting was one of respect. The meeting was the third in a series on the Portland police's use of force, and "it took a lot of work in the last two years to get to this point," said Rev. Héctor López, a committee member.

Gathered in the basement of the United Church of Christ on Northeast Ainsworth and 30th Avenue were about a dozen Portlanders in the audience listening to a dozen volunteer panelists, split between Portland police officers and community members. Panelists discussed their disappointments and surprises regarding the Portland Police Bureau. Here's what they had to say:

Donita Fry of the Native American Youth Family Center, said Native Americans have a hard time trusting Portland police because of what she said were problems rooted in racial profiling.

Tori Lopez, a juvenile court counselor for Multnomah County, says the Police Bureau needs to do a better job recognizing the effect of childhood trauma on gang members and keep them out of prison, which is "the wrong answer no matter what."

Officer Anthony Passadore said, "There's a huge emphasis on communication in this bureau and I'm really proud of that."

David Woboril, who specializes in community-police relations at the Portland City Attorney's Office, had four statistics he wanted Portlanders to know:

1. Overall, officer-involved shootings are down 54 percent over the past six years compared to the previous six years-though there was a spike in 2010. 2. Public satisfaction with police has been increasing over the last few years, he said. 3. Average response time to high-priority calls is improving, down to 4.96 minutes in 2009 from 5.23 minutes in 2007. 4. In terms of use of force (handcuffing doesn't count; pulling wrists behind the back does), Portland compares closely to similarly-sized cities. Portland police officers use force in 3.01 percent of arrests, Seattle in 2.96 percent of arrests, and San Jose in 2.88 percent of arrests, Woboril said.

Dan Handleman of Copwatch, believes measuring public complaints against the police (Woboril's second statistic) is not meaningful because people may not trust the system to report. He also has little faith in video scenarios practiced by police during training, questioning how officers practice de-escalation through body language in front of a TV set.

TASER use was part of Woboril's discussion, and he invited the panel's opinions on when TASER use is appropriate. Portland police may use TASERs when "a person engages in, or displays intent to engage in, physical resistance, aggressive physical resistance, or suicide." And community members did not reach a consensus on the ethics of using TASERs.

Passadore summarized the meeting's civil atmosphere: “There's a running joke in the Police Department that people don't tell their doctors how to do an operation, but they tell you how to be a cop. Today, I learned there's no easy answer [to community-police relations]."

Meetings are open to the public and held every third Wednesday of the month from 4:30-6:30 pm. See the next agenda here.
 
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