Portland Police Still Lack Gang Labeling Policy, Audit Finds

The mayor says the bureau’s new teams aren’t subject to the auditor’s recommendations.

officer A Portland police officer enters his vehicle. (Brian Burk)

In 2018, the City Auditor’s Office issued a pair of reports on Portland Bureau’s Gang Enforcement Team. The team has since been disbanded, replaced first by the short-lived Gun Violence Reduction Team and then the Enhanced Community Safety and Focused Intervention Teams, which still exist.

That shouldn’t free the bureau from addressing the auditor’s concerns, however, the office noted in its latest report, published March 21.

It found that the city was still not doing a good job safeguarding the civil liberties of people the bureau believes are associated with gangs. Although the city eliminated its Most Active Gang Member list, it still informally tracks gang affiliations—and continues to have no documented procedures for when it can use or disseminate those affiliations.

The city recently commissioned a study, based on interviews with PPB officers, which claimed the bureau had identified 30 different groups at risk for violence, with over 1,000 members.

The audit also noticed a disturbing drop in its dedicated gun-violence teams’ clearance rates. The latest iteration, the Community Safety Team, cleared only 20% of shooting investigations begun in 2021. Last year, it set a goal of clearing 45% of nonfatal shootings.

In response to the auditor’s latest report, Mayor Ted Wheeler argued that the “significant distinctions” between the bureau’s currently specialty teams and the Gang Enforcement Team render the audit’s prior recommendations irrelevant.

He also noted that the auditor’s directive to create an official policy “in effect directs PPB to create a tracking system for individual gang affiliation, even if that information exists only in officers’ memories or witness statements made to police.”

Auditor Simone Rede defended the recommendations in a statement. “Though its units have changed, the Police Bureau’s commitment to accountable and transparent policing should not. Policies are fundamental to responsible management of information the bureau collects about community members,” she wrote.

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