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Portland Police ‘Use of Force’ Incidents Down by 50 Percent

Monday, September 22, 2014



Photo credit: Squid Vicious on Flickr. Creative Commons License. Image cropped. 

The number of incidents in which Portland’s police officers have used force has declined dramatically to nearly half of what it was just two years ago.

And new numbers to be released by the Portland Police Bureau in the coming weeks are expected to show that the decline is continuing.

While the there are still incidents that receive a lot of attention such as the recent one in which a student at Roosevelt High School was tasered, if things hold, this quarter will be the sixth time in the past seven quarters that the number has dropped.

Numbers falling

In the second quarter of the year - from April through June - the bureau had been involved in 187 incidents. That’s down from 372 incidents in the same quarter two years before. 

If you put the 187 incidents in the context of the number of times police officers responded to calls for service (100,618 times), only one-quarter of one percent all calls resulted in a use of force.

It’s a dramatic turn from two years ago when the United States Department of Justice sued the Police Bureau, charging that officers engaged in a “pattern or practice” of civil rights violations when using force to deal with people with mental issues.

Investigation into incidents

That investigation was announced on the heels of several high-profile incidents in which police used force - sometimes deadly - against a person who was dealing with mental issues.

The Bureau - which late last month signed a settlement with the Justice Department - has been revamping the way it trains officers and deals with people issues.

Bureau spokesman Pete Simpson says that while the Bureau knows they have been taking several steps in the right direction, it’s still too early to reach definite conclusions about what has changed.

“Given the short duration of time that the Bureau has been able to collect and analyze this data, it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from it as far as what we are doing differently that is reducing use of force incidents,” says Simpson.

“Certainly the Bureau’s increased emphasis on de-escalation, communication, and the addition of the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) and the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team (ECIT) are all positive factors that we believe are contributors to the low numbers of force incidents.”
The two units referred to by Simpson were created in the wake of the lawsuit by the Justice Department. Officers in both units deal with people with mental illness: the ECIT officers undergo special training and are the first responders when there is a call involving a person with mental illness and the BHU officers deal with people with mental illness who generate frequent calls to police.

Treating incidents seriously

Simpson says that even though the number of incidents has been dropping, each incident is treated seriously.

“The Bureau reviews each and every one of those incidents to ensure that they are within law, policy and consistent with training,” says Simpson.
“Our continuing ability to collect this data will allow us, over time, to do an in-depth analysis of the numbers and to draw some helpful conclusions about the training the Bureau provides to officers.”

As part of the settlement with the Justice Department, the Bureau will provide annual reports  to the judge overseeing the case, detailing their progress in reforming how they operate,.

The Bureau will also hire a compliance officer who will provide quarterly updates to the judge.

Critics disappointed

While the settlement was praised by many community leaders, there were critics who expressed disappointment with the judge for having approved it. They stated that while the Bureau has made some changes, they have mostly been cosmetic and the Bureau still has a long way to go.


Homepage photo credit: masha/scott on Flickr. Creative Commons License


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