Who should analyze police misconduct? It’s time we take oversight out of cops’ hands. Police accountability experts ARE available.
In other posts, we describe the role of a Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB), installed as part of a Federal Agreement that the City of Portland, Oregon eliminates illegal use of force in policing. Unfortunately, the prime influence on this body of political appointees and citizen volunteers have been the perpetrators of civil rights violations … and their agents. The City seeks to keep intact as much of what DoJ Findings (pg. 27) termed a ‘self-defeating accountability system’ as it can. In it’s second public meeting, COAB was encouraged to retain the very data analysis that has allowed civil rights violations to fester, unchecked.
Wide-ranging expertise on research methodology is available.
We’d like to introduce Dr. Tracie L. Keesee, Co-founder and Director of Research Partnerships for the Center for Policing Equity. We spoke last week with the recently appointed Project Director for the US Attorney General’s National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice.
Dr. Keesee indicated all she needed was an invitation, and she’d bring to Portland her considerable expertise. Her new appointment empowers a team to partner on research that “promotes police transparency and accountability, by facilitating innovative research collaborations between law enforcement agencies and empirical social scientists.”
In particular, Keesee wants COAB to know of resources available through the DoJ’s Office of Justice Programs’ Diagnostic Center. This government entity “works closely with communities to diagnose their unique public safety challenges and implement data-driven programs tailored to minimize future risks and enhance community strengths.”
In 2012 Consult Hardesty began what we thought would be a collaborative effort with Mayor Adams, to solicit Federal resources and inoculate The People against further civil rights violations. We’d like readers to know that the Feds’ Bureau of Justice Assistance also offers resources through their National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC). This grant program is designed to “replicate model programs and approaches; increase knowledge and use of best practices, emerging technologies, and proven strategies.” NTTAC will even help identify needs. It’s available to citizen advocates.
Here’s what’s at stake.
Portland police (PPB) benefit from an uninterrupted history of policing themselves. The absence of checks and balances in their self-exoneration system is a major, contributing factor to subsequent illegal conduct. COAB is being asked to perpetuate a significant, institutional relationship that lends credence to this police corruption. The City is gearing up to provide PPB with six additional data analysts. Instead of taking action to open racial profiling source data for broad, academic review, for instance; local authorities would prefer to keep data analysis in-house: to continue allowing cops to validate their own conduct.
In hiring a Compliance Officer Community Liaison (COCL) to liaise with COAB, the City refuted recommendations from a citizen-based Selection Committee (on which Jo Ann Hardesty served). The Mayor substituted consultants he lauded for “in-depth experience analyzing policing practices from across the country.” Data analysis is so important to Rosenbaum & Watson, LLP that a clause in their contract assures a future revenue stream: “Consultant shall be entitled to use the data collected and analyzed, including tables, charts, and research reports for publication in academic books, journal articles, lectures, or other presentations.”
Here’s what’s on offer.
The Agreement (Item 146) speeds COAB into surveying community experiences with, and perceptions of, PPB’s prior accountability efforts; to ascertain where those efforts could be improved. In May of last year, PPB planned to get a jump on accountability measures. Then-Chief Reese sought an open-ended contract of not less than $180,000 be offered to Dr. Brian Renauer, and Portland State University’s Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute (CJPRI). The purpose: to “provide analysis services to meet the requirements of the DOJ settlement agreement.”
The justification was bogus. Police plans failed when Jo Ann testified before City Council that the Agreement actually calls for survey development to be done in consultation with COAB … which did not form until January of this year.
The City (and COCL) plan to stymie reform.
On 12 March, COCL urged COAB to employ CJPRI to implement a PPB data analysis plan that has been waiting in the wings. COAB failed to martial eight favorable votes. We suspect – in the interim – COCL will not look to it’s national network for others with a capacity to do this work. It should be easy to find organizations not already in fiduciary relationship with the perpetrators of civil rights violations. We expect COCL will not liaise with COAB, but to merely lobby these citizen volunteers to align with PPB collaborators.
Instead of an independently established oversight body, the City wraps its arms around COAB, treating these community members as if they constitute one of their numerous advisory boards that have – for generations – propped up unconstitutional police patterns and practices. The City is likely to now be working their political appointees to rubber-stamp failed past practices. They need but one more vote to keep the status quo. It’s easier to get that vote than establish police accountability.
A call to Dr. Keesee is warranted.
Other PSU academics are also capable of a needed analysis: Karen Gibson, Urban Studies and Planning, and Leanne Serbulo, University Studies … award-winning authors of Black and Blue: Police-Community Relations in Portland’s Albina District … have published research far outside the PPB narrative. Dr. Ann Curry-Stevens directs PSU’s Center for Community-Initiated Research to Advance Racial Equity (CCIRARE). Dr. Curry-Stevens is not confined to racial analysis: she “aims to provide community groups with a visible and standardized pathway into Portland State University through which they can request research support.”
We here illustrate our concerns for further reliance on CJPRI.
We described only one element on an ongoing relationship between perpetrators and CJPRI. A three-year Federal grant (2014) to the City cycles more than a quarter million dollars to CJPRI. These researchers – backbone for Oregon’s Law Enforcement Contacts Policy and Data Review Committee (LECC) – have been feeding at the trough, analyzing ‘performance improvements’ “in partnership with Oregon law enforcement” since at least 2005. LECC goals (set by Oregon statute), “to ensure racial equity in law enforcement activities,” have not been met in fourteen years. Police simply analyze their data and report – stone-faced – that racial profiling continues unabated.
CJPRI’s influence has not only been insufficient to prevent civil rights violations: it has, at times, given legitimacy to those who violate our laws. CJPRI has gotten other City funding through PPB. Following the passage of the (never implemented) 2009 Police Plan to Address Racial Profiling, Renauer and his assistant Emily Covelli were to ascertain whether any benchmarks beside census data could influence racial profiling analysis. They researched for other variables as if to assert people of color are simply more criminal – or reckless – and therefore deserved over-policing. (Renauer and Covelli were unsuccessful at establishing benchmarks which could make racial profiling data seem less egregious.)
PPB and CJPRI collaborated in a 2014 report. Though two CJPRI recommendations had not been resolved by their employers, CJPRI data analysis in the main failed to get at the heart of the very civil rights violations for which COAB now seeks remedy. (CJPRI asserts we have a perception problem, not a policing problem: “Intensive patrol of areas can increase disproportionate contact with people of color. This does not mean that these techniques should be abandoned, but does reinforce the importance of a community-wide discussion …” pg. 37.)
In fact, it’s difficult to tell where CJPRI research leaves off and PPB aspirations take over. Contract language is problematic: it gives PPB authority to influence academic findings before they’re published. In 2013, CJPRI began a three-part contract, to pre-empt COAB and set ‘baselines’ for public perceptions on policing. We were shocked to find, in the first CJPRI report, “Recommendation 4: Increase the use of car and person cameras for officers and analysis of camera footage.” When Jo Ann confronted Renauer, as to whether the recommendation was drawn from their analysis, he allowed as it had not: body-worn cameras were on the Chief’s wish list. CJPRI merely put their seal of approval on an idea that in no way originated in their research.
CJPRI has a revolving door relationship with PPB. In 2008 Covelli (see above) became a CJPRI Research Assistant. In 2011 she simultaneously contracted with the City to “facilitate their Community Police Relations Subcommittee’s (CPRC) work on issues related to race and equity.” In 2013 Covelli was given a full-time job … as PPB training analyst. Serve the client well, and CJPRI can be a stepping stone to police employment. (Volunteering with CPRC can be lucrative as well: a Human Rights Commissioner appointed to chair that body also contracted with the City to deliver police training. This ‘cosy relationship’ helped keep the Human Rights Commission from dispassionate analysis of civil rights and local policing.)
UPDATE: PPB removed the HRC Chair from the above $50,000 contract. From the Oregonian: “When Hardesty and others questioned why the head of a city volunteer committee would get paid as a consultant, Turner chose to step aside from consideration for the post “to remove any appearance of impropriety.”
In February 2014, City Club of Portland chose Renauer to moderate the forum, ‘Policing the Police, Who’s holding whom accountable?” The CPRI Director saw it as an opportunity to ask the Director of the City’s ‘Independent’ Police Review Division the means necessary to offer commendations for police officers. Needless to say, Renauer was unable to get participants – including the police chief who contracted for his services – to answer the forum’s question. It was more important that participants massaged community perceptions than it was for Renauer to lead a frank discussion on police accountabiity.
It’s time to look beyond cronies for analysis.
COAB will convene on 2 April. One week later they’ll expose themselves to a Town Hall meeting. Getting beyond City plans – to have their deficient accountability infrastructure reinforced – will present a challenge to community volunteers: COCL and CJPRI are peers in police data analysis. They’ll seek … out of professional courtesy and shared experience of drawing revenue from the ‘monitoring police improvement’ game … to reinforce one another.
We encourage COAB to commission their own, independent research. The OJP Diagnostic Center‘s “methodical diagnostic approach includes identifying stakeholders, gauging the scope of community challenges, recognizing trends, establishing baselines, and determining which data points can be moved by implementation of data-driven strategies. The Center promotes the integration and translation of data, on what works, into enduring criminal justice and public safety solutions.” NTAAC offers COAB a “variety of programs and activities aimed at improving the criminal justice system’s response to people with mental illness.”
We can put folks in touch with Dr. Keesee. We hope COAB will insist on conducting a needs analysis that takes them beyond perpetrators’ influence.
“What can we expect when the subject of research is something as controversial, as downright divisive as race and discrimination, particularly in the United States? What can we expect if we add the ingredients of crime, discriminatory policing, [and] biased law enforcement? It requires significant intellectual and scientific honesty to realize our own limitations and acknowledge the very high degree by which our research is colored – pardon the pun – by our historical and social lenses.
It also demands a lot more work and effort to build a parallel bounty of resources and a theoretical arsenal to ask new questions, to re-hypothesize, to question the origins of not merely our conceptions and frameworks, but even the wording and, certainly, the “objective data” – crime reports and statistics, for instance – that underpins our sociological and cultural research.” – Controlling Variables into Meaninglessness, by Isabel Manuela Estrada Portales, Ph.D., Communications Specialist at National Institutes of Health