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Kevin Sali: Fair Treatment for Police Officers and the Rest of Us

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


The debate in Oregon over body cameras for law enforcement officers is shifting from “whether” to “how.”  As it does so, one of the key questions is whether an officer should have the opportunity to review video footage before being interviewed regarding a shooting or other critical incident.  Officers and their representatives are vigorously advocating for that right.  Others just as strongly oppose it; the Oregonian Editorial Board, for example, wrote an editorial arguing against the idea.

I’m with the officers on this one.

I understand the other side.  In theory, an immediate post-incident statement is the best test of truthfulness.  Honest officers should be able to tell us what happened based on their own recollections; if we allow them to review video beforehand, that only allows the dishonest ones to “cook up” a story that matches the footage.   

But that way of thinking misunderstands the way human beings perceive and remember events.  As a massive body of research shows, and as the Oregon Supreme Court has recognized in laying down rules for the evaluation of eyewitness testimony, our memories don’t work like video recorders, accurately and objectively storing the events we observe.  Instead, what we initially perceive and what we ultimately “remember” are affected by a number of factors including our stress levels and what our minds logically “expect” to have happened.  

The result is that it’s entirely possible for even an honest person to have a flawed recollection, particularly of a complex or stressful series of events.  For that and other reasons, as an attorney I always ensure that my client and I have had a full opportunity to review all available evidence before making any statement about what happened.  If the other evidence doesn’t match my client’s recollection, we consider the possibility that the client is remembering things inaccurately.

This isn’t some sort of ploy to help devise a convincing false story; I don’t countenance that tactic and would never agree to be part of it.  Instead, it’s an effort to avoid having a legitimate perception or memory error cause my client to say something inaccurate that could later prove harmful.  

And that principle applies to everyone.  When I recently had the opportunity to give a training seminar to a group of police officers, I gave them the same advice I give all of my other clients on this topic.

So what the officers are asking for—a fair opportunity to review the available evidence before making a statement—is entirely reasonable.  Here’s the problem, though: that’s the exact opposite of the way police officers are trained to interrogate the rest of us.

When an officer interrogates a civilian suspected of having committed a crime, the civilian isn’t allowed to review video footage or other evidence beforehand.  If he asks to do so, the request will be denied; the officers will typically tell him they want to know what he’ll say without knowing what they have so they’ll know if he’s telling the truth.

And the civilian’s disadvantage isn’t limited to the absence of an opportunity to review actual evidence.  Officers are specifically trained to lie to suspects about the existence of evidence, and use other psychologically manipulative tactics, during interrogations.  (They’re supposedly trained not to proceed to this type of interrogation until they’ve decided the suspect is guilty; frankly, that doesn’t provide an awful lot of comfort.)

This has all been deemed to be perfectly legal, and it’s safe to assume that such practices are here to stay.  There is no realistic possibility that law enforcement agencies will ever reform their policies to eliminate deception and manipulation—much less that they’ll ever go as far as they want us to go with them, and affirmatively share their evidence with civilians before interrogating them.

So when officers ask us to change the rules for them and ensure that they’ll be allowed to review video footage before being interviewed, what should our response be?  I admit it’s highly tempting to insist that they be forced to live under the same system they impose on the rest of us.  

Ultimately, though, I can’t agree with that.  I know, based on the science and my own experience, that because of the way human memory and perception work that’s a fundamentally unfair way to extract statements from someone.  And I don’t believe it’s right to impose this unfair practice on police officers simply because it’s imposed on other groups.  So what should we do?

Here’s one possible solution.  When a defendant is interrogated without having been allowed to review the available evidence and the government wants to use the results of that interrogation at trial, jurors should learn that the police officers who did the questioning would never have agreed to be subjected to that type of interrogation themselves.  Judges could, for example, allow defense attorneys to demonstrate that police officers around the country recognize that such tactics are deeply unfair, as they increase the risk of honest mistakes that can end up making someone look deceptive or guilty.  They could even give jurors specific instructions cautioning them that the type of interrogation tactics used are considered improper and misleading by law enforcement officers themselves.

This certainly wouldn’t solve all of the problems caused by improper interrogation tactics, but it would be a step in the right direction.  And in the meantime, perhaps some of the officers who are insisting on a right to a pre-interview video review might pause to re-evaluate their approach to the civilians they interrogate.

We can dream, can’t we?

Kevin Sali is a Lake Oswego attorney representing individuals and businesses in a broad range of criminal, civil and regulatory matters.  Kevin spent four years as a high school science teacher in Miami, Florida before earning his law degree from Duke University.  He is the author of Scientific Evidence:  A Manual for Oregon Defense Attorneys and numerous other writings on a variety of topics in the legal field, and is a contributor to Huffington Post Crime.  For more information visit salilaw.com


Related Slideshow: Meet Portland Police Bureau’s New Members and Lieutenants

Here are the newly promoted Portland Police Bureau lieutenants, police officers, and non-sworn employees, as they were introduced by Sgt. Pete Simpson at the April 2015 Promotion and Officering Hiring Ceremony: 

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Promoted to the rank of lieutenant

Andy was appointed to the Portland Police Bureau on July 2nd, 1992.  He completed his training and was assigned to Northeast Precinct. Andy became a member of the Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT) in 2002.

Andy was later assigned to the Youth Gun Anti-Violence Task Force, where he worked to reduce gun and gang violence. 

In 2010, Andy was promoted to sergeant and assigned to East Precinct and Central Precinct. He then returned to SERT as one of the team’s full-time sergeants.

Andy has 37 letters of commendation in his file, many of which cite his performance as a member of SERT and the Tactical Operations Division.  He was honored with a Unit Commendation Medal of Valor as a member of SERT, another Unit Commendation Medal for his work on SERT and a Unit Commendation Medal as part of the Gang Enforcement Team.

Lieutenant Andy Shearer will be assigned to the Chief’s Office. 

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Promoted to the rank of lieutenant

Pete was appointed to the Portland Police Bureau on October 1st, 1992.  He rotated through the precincts as part of his training and then was assigned to Central Precinct and then the Gang Enforcement Team.  He joined the Special Emergency Reaction Team in 2000.  

In 2010, Pete was assigned to North Precinct as a sergeant; most recently he has been assigned as a sergeant in the Detective Division.

Pete has more than 40 letters of commendation in his file, many for his dedication to reducing gang violence and addressing community livability.

Pete also has been honored with a Commendation Medal for his work on the Gang Enforcement Team’s undercover sting, “Operation Red Dragon”, and has two Unit Commendations for his participation on the Gang Enforcement Team as well as street crimes in Central Precinct. He was also honored with a Unit Commendation with Valor as a member of SERT.

Lieutenant Pete Mahuna will be assigned to East Precinct Day Shift.

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Promoted to the rank of lieutenant


Stephanie was appointed to the Portland Police Bureau on August 12th, 1999.  She completed her rotation throughout the precincts and was assigned to Northeast Precinct and then Southeast Precinct.  She later worked at Central Precinct before being promoted to Sergeant in 2006.  As a sergeant Stephanie has been assigned to Northeast Precinct and then most recently the Family Services Division.

Stephanie has 17 letters of commendation in her file that describe the busy life of a patrol officer and sergeant. Community members have thanked her for her professionalism during crises, outgoing and caring attitude and tactical planning.

Stephanie also was part of a Unit Commendation as a member of the Crisis Intervention Team.

Lieutenant Stephanie Lourenco will be assigned to Central Precinct.

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Promoted to the rank of lieutenant

Ryan was appointed to the Portland Police Bureau on September 21st, 2000.  He rotated through the precincts as part of his training and then was assigned to Central Precinct and then East Precinct as part of the Neighborhood Response Team.  He was also a detached member of the Bureau’s Rapid Response Team.

In 2008, Ryan was promoted to sergeant and assigned to North and then the Transit Police Division.  He has worked at North Precinct the last two years.  

Ryan has 25 letters of commendation in his file, most of which cite his professionalism, calm demeanor and helpfulness.

Ryan also has a Unit Commendation as part of the Bureau’s Burglary Intervention Team at East Precinct.

Lieutenant Ryan Lee will be assigned to the Traffic Division.

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Promoted to the rank of lieutenant

Mike was appointed to the Portland Police Bureau on January 21, 1999.  After completing his training rotations, he worked at Central Precinct and then as a member of the Criminal Intelligence Unit, assigned as dignitary protection to then-Mayor Vera Katz.  

Mike then went to Northeast Precinct before being promoted to Detective. He worked in the Detective Division and then moved to East Precinct. In 2011 he was assigned as a sergeant to Central Precinct.

Mike most recently was assigned to the Burglary Task Force in the Detective Division. He has 16 letters of commendation in his file, thanking him for his professionalism and commitment to conducting thorough investigations.  He has received a Unit Commendation as part of the Bureau’s Crisis Intervention Team and two Life Saving Medals for his response to suicidal individuals.

Lieutenant Mike Frome will be assigned to Central Precinct Afternoon Shift.

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Promoted to the rank of lieutenant

Ric was appointed to the Portland Police Bureau on December 6th, 1990.  After rotating through the precincts as part of his training, he settled in at Northeast Precinct in 2001.  In 2010, Ric was promoted to Sergeant and assigned to Central Precinct.

Ric has more than  30 letters of commendation in his file and one Unit Commendation for his work at Central Precinct Street Crimes.  Ric has been involved in countless community policing initiatives and the letters describe his professionalism, compassion and dedication to making people’s lives better by affecting community livability.

Lieutenant Ric Deland will be assigned to East Precinct Night Shift.

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Welcomed as a new police officer ​

Nick was born and raised in Vancouver, Washington, and graduated from Hudson’s Bay High School in 2010.  

Nick began his goal of becoming a Police Officer by joining the Portland Police Bureau Cadet Program in 2011, and continued in that capacity until 2013.  Nick then joined the Clark County Sheriff’s Department in Vancouver as a Reserve Deputy, where he was described by a supervisor as trustworthy, dependable, and a hard worker.

While volunteering as a Reserve Deputy, Nick also worked for the Vancouver School District as a District Resource Officer.  Nick was responsible for keeping the schools, students, and staff safe while enforcing school rules and policies.  

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Welcomed as a new police officer ​

Larry was born in Portland and graduated from Oregon City High School. He obtained an Associate’s Degree in General Studies from Clackamas Community College, then went on to Portland State University, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science in 2012. 

Prior to becoming a Portland Police Officer, Larry was employed with Albertina Kerr Center, where he was a Direct Care Professional. During his time there, Larry worked with two developmentally disabled individuals who have moderate to severe behavioral issues. His duties included providing personal care, ensuring support plans and making sure their goals were met. 

In Larry’s free time, he enjoys fishing, basketball, car projects and doing volunteer construction work for Habitat for Humanity.

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Welcomed as a new non-sworn member ​

Elle was hired as the Equity and Diversity Program Manager in the Chief’s office on February 4th, 2015.  Elle is the 4th member of the Weatheroy family to join the Police Bureau, following her father and two brothers.

She is a graduate of Benson High School, and then attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Oregon State University, followed by Portland State University where she earned a Master’s of Social Work.  

After moving to Washington DC, she worked as a social worker at several levels and disciplines, as well as a recruiter and staff development trainer.  She then moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where she started Weatheroy Consulting, LLC.  She joined the Annie E. Casey Foundation as a consultant, working with many states in public system reform.  

Elle returned to Portland, in 2013, and worked locally in areas of equity and diversity training, middle manager training, and strategic planning.  

Elle enjoys cycling, exercise, live music, outdoor activities and spending time with her family and dog, Pacino.  

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Welcomed as a new non-sworn member ​

Melodie was hired in February 2015, as a Police Administrative Support Specialist at North Precinct, working out of the Lloyd District Contact Office. 

Melodie was born in the Southwest, raised in Texas and New Mexico, and has been a grateful Oregon resident since the 1980s.  She graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Environmental Science. 

Before joining the Police Bureau, Melodie worked as a long-time manager at Powell’s Technical Bookstore and also managed multiple properties and events as a Personal Assistant to some prominent Portlanders. 

Melodie enjoys hiking, birding, travel, being a parent, foster-parent, and soon-to-be-grandparent.  She is an avid amateur photographer, and eventually hopes to master fly-fishing. 

Melodie is happy to join the Bureau and enjoys the amazing people she has been working with. She invites Bureau members to stop by the Lloyd District Contact Office and say hello.

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Welcomed as a new non-sworn member ​

Megan was hired as a Police Administrative Support Specialist and assigned to the Youth Services Division on March 31st, 2015.

Megan spent her childhood living in the Yukon Territory, Canada, before moving to Portland. She graduated from St. Mary’s Academy, where she was a three-time Oregon State Champion in the National Science Olympiad competition, and President of the Tri-M Music Honor Society. 

Megan received a Presidential Scholarship to attend Elon University in North Carolina, and graduated last May with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. She is currently in the first year of her Master’s Program at Lewis and Clark, pursuing a degree in Marriage, Couples, and Family Therapy.

Megan joins the Bureau after having served as a Summer Works intern for Commissioner Steve Novick in 2013. 

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Welcomed as a new non-sworn member ​

Ed was hired as an Identification Technician in the Forensic Evidence Division on March 26th, 2015. 

Ed was born in Twentynine Palms, California, and lived in Japan and North Carolina before settling with his family in Oregon. Since 1989, Ed has called Portland his home. 

Before joining the Police Bureau, Ed worked with Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, Legacy Health, and with the Federal Reserve Police. 

Ed enjoys spending his free time doing anything outdoors. Some of his interests include camping, fishing, hiking, and metal detecting.


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