By Daryl Turner, President PPA
As part of the United States Department of Justice’s investigation into the pattern and practice of force on individuals with actual or perceived mental illness, the City and the Police Bureau have proposed a new general use of force policy at Directive 1010.00. The PPA has grave concerns regarding the policy. No officers, sergeants or investigators were asked by Portland Police Bureau management for their input regarding these policy changes prior to a draft which was sent out to all sworn Bureau personnel. The newly proposed policy will make a difficult and dangerous job even more difficult in efforts to protect the communities that police officers serve. We believe that if implemented this one of a kind untested policy will have a negative impact and minimized the ability of police officers to protect the neighborhoods they work.
Over the course of the last few years the PPA and its members have voiced their concerns regarding how we accommodate and offer help to those in mental health crisis. Many front line officers and supervisors have offered their input, based on decades of experience, only to be ignored. Enter the USDOJ and their investigation which concluded that Portland Police Officers use to much force when dealing with the mentally ill and those in mental health crisis. The PPA and its members are strong advocates of partnering with mental health professionals in finding reasonable solutions when dealing with the mentally ill. Bringing the expertise of mental health professionals along with front line officers and supervisors is the first step in solving this issue.
During the entire investigation the USDOJ, the City, and the PPB have talked about partnerships. Partnerships with the community, with mental health professionals, and with community organizations but not once did we hear them talk about a partnership with the officers and supervisors on the front lines. The newly proposed force policy is a product of that same mind set, by leaving the front line workers out of the process.
The safety of the community, the mentally ill and police officers is the number one concern of the PPA and its members. And the concerns listed below are just some of the issues that will make the proposed new force policy unacceptable.
1. The proposed policy creates a new standard for use of force that is unprecedented in any other major law enforcement agency in the country.
2. The new, proposed standard has two components:
a. Graham component: An officer’s use of force is judged under the Graham standard.
b. Graham-plus component: An officer’s thought process and mindset regarding use of force is judged under a performance based standard that allows for a hindsight analysis. This runs counter to the Graham standard that provides that an officer’s use of force should not be judged with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.
3. The new standard, specifically the Graham-plus component, could expose an officer to discipline for his or her thought process alone. For example, the use of a less-lethal tool could be in policy. But the officer’s mindset and thought process when using the tool could land him or her out of policy because, in management’s eyes, the officer did not adequately recognize and consider a subject’s perceived mental state.
4. An officer could face discipline because a management official not involved in the incident believes, in hindsight, that it was practical for the officer to have used less force or no force at all even though the officer’s use of force meets the Graham standard.
5. An officer could face discipline because a management official not involved in the incident believes, in hindsight, that the officer failed to consider lesser force options or no force at all even though the officer’s use of force meets the Graham standard.
6. An officer could face discipline because of the quality of the officer’s post-use-of-force written report, which the Bureau would use to determine the adequacy and quality of the member’s thinking and decision-making during the use of force event.
7. The new policy creates significant officer safety issues. Officers will be limited in how they can use reasonable levels of force early in an incident to quickly and safely resolve the incident. The new policy may also prolong the force event, may result in higher levels of force as the incident escalates, and exposes officers to increased risk of injury.
8. The new policy also creates significant community safety issues. In many instances, not using a reasonable level of force early in an incident results in greater force as the incident escalates. An officer’s ability to recognize signs of escalation and intervene at the lowest level to stop the escalation best preserves public safety.
9. As with other agencies around the country, the PPA was excluded from negotiations between the City and the United States Department of Justice, depriving the PPA of input regarding the impacts of the use of force policy on officers and the community. Simply put, the PPA has not agreed to the Bureau’s new, proposed use of force policy.
10. The new policy concerns mandatory bargaining subjects, including officer safety and discipline. The PPA will take all necessary steps to preserve its collective bargaining rights.