Canary in the Mine: Riverside and Portland part one
"You might never accept us. You might never believe that we are all created equal. But until you learn of these things, you will respect us."
---Sign left at the household in Lima, Ohio where Tarika Wilson was shot and killed by SWAT Team members.
Riverside has declared its food for fines program a success. That's good news, to take into this weekend's annual Charles Dickons Festival where the city celebrates all things English, 1800s from Friday to Sunday in the downtown area. Lots of interesting costumes, wares, food and on some occasions, sustained booming sounds.
Another press release from the Office of Police Complaints in Washington, D.C. stating that it's about to release its annual report.
January 24, 2008
Police Complaints Board and Office of Police Complaints Release 2007 Annual Report
(Washington, DC) - The Office of Police Complaints (OPC) and its governing body, the Police Complaints Board (PCB), today released their 2007 Annual Report. The agency closed the most complaints, completed the most investigations, and adjudicated and mediated the most complaints in its history.
The agency received 440 complaints from the public against officers of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the DC Housing Authority Police Department (DCHAPD). This figure was a 6% increase over the year before.
The agency prepared 345 investigative reports. In addition, 22 complaints were adjudicated and 19 of the complaints had allegations that were sustained and forwarded to the Chief of Police for discipline.
OPC also conducted 35 mediation sessions, 26 (or 74%) of which were successful, and led to an agreement between the complainant and subject officer that resolved the complaint.
"This was a very productive year for the agency," said Philip K. Eure, OPC's executive director. "We made progress on a number of fronts, which will allow us to better serve the District and promote greater confidence in the police."
In addition to investigating and resolving individual complaints of police misconduct, the agency issued four detailed policy recommendations, including a report on its monitoring of MPD's handling of several protests held in Washington in the spring.
Overall, the agency has been pleased with steps taken by MPD and the city to implement proposals made by PCB. For instance, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) and MPD took immediate steps to carry out the Board's September 2007 proposals designed to increase public awareness of District law regarding drivers and cellular telephones.
Unfortunately, though, MPD and the city have not adopted key elements of the September 2006 recommendations made by PCB that urged MPD to become more proactive in addressing the needs of people with mental illness who interact with police officers.
Beyond the handling of individual complaints and the issuance of policy recommendations, the agency conducted a variety of community outreach activities during the year. For example, the agency launched a partnership with the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project at American University's Washington College of Law that involved OPC providing student interactive training at 12 schools throughout the District.
To view a full copy of the 2007 Annual Report, visit OPC's website at http://www.policecomplaints.dc.gov/
In related news, the Community Police Review Commission released its 2006 report only several months ago. It's late in part due to the turnover in the executive manager position as well as the exodus of weary commissioners and the influx of their replacements through the city council's selection process which has been refined somewhat since the appointments of the earlier commissioners who have since departed. It's out despite the fiddling and fudging going on with the CPRC's current staffing situation or more accurate, lack of staffing situation. The commission which has always needed more staffing than it's received has had problems in the wake of its one full-time administrative assistant who's put years of hard work into the commission, being on medical leave.
Instead of placing another employee temporarily in the position full-time until the employee returns to her position, the city manager's office has offered it only part-time staffing support. It's curious because one would think in an office that claims to bring so much expertise to this entire process that it would realize how important it is for a division to be provided with enough staffing support. This bit of how-to on police oversight mechanisms probably is in a section of the manual they haven't reached yet.
Other commissions had experienced difficulties with full-time employees who were reduced to serving part-time including the Human Relations Commission which experienced just that while it was under the city manager's office. Curiously enough, the timing of the staffing reduction on that commission decreased not long after the HRC sent a letter to the city manager's office requesting race and gender information on employees at City Hall in the wake of the "departures" and demotions of several men and women of color. At any rate, the HRC stuggled under this system until it was moved to the Mayor's office. The CPRC continues its struggles, because adopting it out to other branches of city government just isn't an option.
At any rate, despite the fiddling and fudging that's been going on the past year involving the CPRC, the annual report finally was released then promptly shelved. It would have been nice if the city manager's office which has taken it upon itself to remold the commission into its chosen image would have cared enough about the body to promptly schedule an appearance by CPRC Chair Brian Pearcy before the city council as is customary for all the city's boards and commissions. Perhaps as some might say, it was time to reshelf the books at the library or do promotions or "at will" positions in the police department, tasks which would keep the city manager's office very busy for at least a little while.
At any rate, the city council will finally be hearing from the CPRC for the first time in two years on Feb. 26, at 6:15 p.m. for about 15 minutes including a power point presentation on the high points of the past year. Sticking of course to the points that are fit to print. Not included will be a flowchart explaining the cast of characters and the roles they have played and continue to play on what has been one of the city's most riveting dramatic serials in the past several years. For one thing, it would take up too much space and time.
The reason why they will finally hearing from the CPRC after all these months and now, years is not because the city manager's office took the initiative to schedule the date, but because it was prodded to do so by someone not making six figures a year, driving the company car and assigned to carry out this small little task and one concerned city council member out of seven who asked questions about it because it needed to be done.
I received an inquiry yesterday about the CPRC and this person stated that the CPRC is pretty much the way the city government wants it to be and this person who's always had insightful things to say about the CPRC specifically and the city in general is right. But it's been a work in progress during the past several years under the current city management which is being of course, directed by the current city council leadership.
It's difficult not to be reminded of that when reading reports on civilian oversight mechanisms in other places, like Portland.
Reading through Dr. Eileen Luna-Firebaugh's analysis and recommendations report for Portland, Oregon's Independent Police Review is very interesting. She begins with a letter to the city's mayor, Tom Potter and among other things, thanks the city's auditor, Gary Blackmer and his staff for their assistance. Which is funny in a sense because after she released her report, Blackmer bashes it in his own written response in large part, because Luna-Firebaugh stepped outside the lines set for her and dared to take input from community members and organizations including Portland CopWatch and the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center. She probably was encouraged to survey the city residents on their feelings about the process. What she surveyed apparently included the wrong crowd.
Besides interviewing and surveying these horrid people which Blackmer apparently doesn't believe represent "community", Luna-Firebaugh interviewed police officers including management personnel and supervisors, city administrators, civilian police oversight experts, academic professionals, lawyers, complainants and community activists. So she interviewed a wide breadth of people for her report including those who had actually utilized the service in question but the only ones who displeased Blackmer and others like him were those who actually utilize the complaint system under study. Those, gasp, who are part of the process in a way that those who frequent tony social events and mingle with elected officials in any city are not. Perhaps it would have pleased Blackmer if he'd provided Luna-Firebaugh with a list of people in Portland who constitute "community" and those who do not to help her out.
It's just so amazing, though not really to think that one relatively small action by Luna-Firebaugh could have created such a response. Or that a city would have probably responded differently if city residents had assigned glowing grades to the process, rather than essentially flunked it. That's the story of civilian review in Portland, past and present flashing by in this one exchange.
No wonder many people in Portland who were asked for their input on the process didn't give it high marks.
Blackmer reminds me of a couple folks in City Hall in Riverside whose philosophy regarding "community" doesn't appear much different. People who are under the mistaken impression that a successful community meeting takes place when the number of city employees who attend outnumbers city residents, who after all, only *count* if they're flattering the city. But the problem is, after these employees move on to bigger or better things or back to their old haunts, the city residents, those who count and even those who don't will be left with the legacy they have left behind.
If the city of Riverside could figure out a way to purge the word, "community" from the CPRC's name, it would. It just hasn't figured out how to do it yet. However, it was interesting to note how Ward Five Councilman Chris MacArthur's favorite candidate for the CPRC kept calling the body, the "Police Review Commission" on his application. The process for interviewing the three prospective candidates to replace a termed out Jack Brewer on the CPRC has yet to be announced and with three new councilmen involved in this process, it will be interesting to see how this latest round of the selection process plays out.
Will the city's philosophy towards "community" change with dais changes which came due to Election 2007? That remains to be seen.
There's a saying in Portland, Oregon regarding its own experiences with civilian oversight mechanisms and that is that the city wants the appearance of accountability and oversight but not the reality. That adage applies to Riverside as well and that's what one Riversider was telling me yesterday. It's interesting to see how two cities that are very different in many ways including politically share a lot in common when it comes to how civilian oversight over their respective police departments is handled by City Hall.
Even the formidable police unions take second billing to the city government when it comes to challenging civilian oversight, the difference being that one of the entities is paid to ensure that this mechanism operates in a successful manner as part of his or her list of job responsibilities and the other one isn't. To examine their relationships with each other is dependent on examining their separate relationships with the elected city government. That seems to be the case in both Portland and Riverside.
Luna-Firebaugh included recommendations in her report. One of them was that the citizen review board be able to decide whether or not to hear appeals and not have to depend on the decision of its director to do so and in addition, the Independent Police Review should play a more active role in initiating investigations of citizen complaints. It's not clear how much the Portland government is going to like that suggestion. For one thing, if that's what the system in place wanted, it would already have it and would have installed it without any recommendations or urging from anyone including paid consultants. It will be interesting to see how they address the recommendation to expand accountability and transparency, now that it's been made by an outside expert in a public report now accessible to residents in the city. But Luna-Firebaugh stressed a much more involved process, greater independence, greater transparency and all three are more difficult for a city government to swallow than a bowling ball.
A good bet in almost any city would that on the surface, there might be language used to welcome those suggestions and talk about how great they are, but behind the scenes? The liklihood of the city strengthening a mechanism when it didn't do it on its own volitiion before is not very high, unless there's significant pressure from the city's residents including those that Blackmer and his ilk have not written off as nonentities. The only power that comes from the recommendations of a consultant such as Luna-Firebraugh is in how much the community responds, not in terms of how little the government who pulls the strings including those of the purse of the oversight mechanism does.
Luna-Firebaugh also supported the use of mediation for complaints alleging discourtesy and other similar violations but not for more serious allegations including excessive force, criminal behavior and in cases where the involved officer was engaging in a pattern of misconduct.
Improving outreach was necessary, she said, and the process should utilize student organizations and law school clinics to engage in it, which likely would expand the publicizing of the Independent Police Review without significant additional expenditures of its annual budget. Outreach for the CPRC has been beyond poor during the past 18 months stemming in part from the city manager's decision in the autumn of 2006 to bar then executive manager, Pedro Payne from attending community meetings. You can go into neighborhoods in Riverside where people have no idea that the CPRC exists let alone what it does.
More to come from Luna-Firebaugh's report and how it factors for both Portland and Riverside, two cities divided by over 1,000 miles, lots of trees and politicial ideologies but when it comes to micromanagement by city processes of civilian oversight, they couldn't be closer.
For those who aren't following the situation of the CPRC but are involved on other civic issues, there are lessons to be learned here that apply elsewhere. The situation involving the CPRC is an excellent model for observing how different forces in this city can impact the services that city residents utilize in different ways depending on what the city's agenda is at any given moment in time. It's after all, the canary in the mine.
Crowds in Cincinnati have appeared at city council meetings to protest the promotion of a police officer who was fired then reinstated, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
More than 50 blacks packed City Council chambers, many of them urging council to denounce the promotion of Sgt. Patrick Caton.
The city fought for three years to fire him; on Wednesday not a single council member defended him.
Councilwoman Roxanne Qualls immediately got a resolution written to improve disciplinary processes. Next, citizens will be able to comment at hearings before council’s Law and Public Safety Committee about how to change state law, civil service rules and the police contract so that the city might not have to re-hire and promote more officers in the future.
“I don’t think there’s anybody here,” Mayor Mark Mallory said, “who wants to see this promotion go through.”
Qualls said she “would hope, quite frankly, that the FOP and all police officers would agree” that Caton’s not someone desirable for the Cincinnati police force.
Caton couldn’t be reached Wednesday. But the head of the police union defended him, pointing out he was acquitted and that civil service rules – not politicians – should determine who is promoted.
The federal judge in Los Angeles who oversees the federal consent decree involving its police officers had some words for the jury that convicted William and Joseph Ferguson, two former police officers in connection with a home invasion robbery ring.
"I've never heard testimony like I've heard in this case," said U.S. District Court Judge Gary A. Feess, who has practiced law since 1974 and was appointed to the federal bench 12 years ago.
Feess then disclosed to jurors that he is also the judge who oversees the federal consent decree imposed on the LAPD in the wake of the 1999 Rampart corruption scandal.
"People may now have an understanding of why we have that decree," he said.
Feess also reiterated his commitment to the police reforms "to see that this sort of thing never happens again."
The convictions of William and Joseph Ferguson capped a six-year probe by the FBI and LAPD and represented a major victory for prosecutors.