How many authorities look the other way, when they could play a vital role in police accountability?
“In a society governed by the rule of law, the government, its officials and agents are subject to and held accountable under the law. Modern societies have developed systems of checks and balances, both constitutional and institutional, to limit the reach of excessive government power, and to subject the government power, or ruler, to legal restraints. These checks and bal-ances take many forms in various countries around the world: they do not operate solely in systems marked by a formal separation of powers, nor are they necessarily codified in law. What is essential, however, is that authority is distributed in a manner that ensures that no single organ of government has the practical ability to exercise unchecked power.” – World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2015.
At the conclusion of this street roots news reporting, Jason Renaud and Jenny Westberg substantially expanded our awareness: police engaged in illegal use of force do so while under many levels of oversight. We were surprised to consider dozens of entities responsible for regulation and scrutiny, all of whom share degrees of responsibility to hold local police accountable. Purported checks on police misconduct are far more extensive than you might at first imagine.
We gave some thought to who might have been left out.* Please see our List of those with Oversight Authority. We stopped adding to it when our revision filled a page. The county’s police-centric Local Public Safety Coordinating Council comes to mind as appropriate for future inclusion: they prop up our white authorities’ anti- ‘gang’ initiatives … which result in severe and sustained race-based disparities in justice delivery. The inter-agency group gives legitimacy to racist practices. (It is from this body that laughable but legal definitions of ‘gang’ membership arose; they hold the center for New Jim Crow laws, which prey on people of color without articulating race at all.)
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, spent a year investigating Portland, Oregon. They found “reasonable cause to believe that a law enforcement agency is engaging in activities that amount to a pattern or practice of violating the Constitution or laws of the United States.” While Madison (right) was fearful of government intrusion, we can assert freedom is equally in jeopardy when agencies do not assume oversight power which has been extended to them.
Made aware that rule of criminal justice law was under threat, most entities have for three years failed to respond with their authority.
Many with perceived legitimacy fail to constrain abuse of government power. Not all were in proximity to a local police bureau, rampantly inflicting violence on Constitutionally protected classes of people. Some are in the state’s capital; others are on campus in other counties. We’ve previously given some thought to reasons for conceptual partitioning. DoJ investigations into police suffer from tunnel vision: they do not begin with, say, Americans’ Fourth Amendment right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects.” Federal lawyers investigate jurisdictions.
Some of those with oversight responsibility, in county and state roles, could imagine that the City of Portland’s problem was ‘elsewhere.’ We also suspect that having a role in government builds a certain affinity for others in the same field: some may have a disinclination to look at peers who share core values. (See posts Trojan Horse of Police Reform and City Plans to Deny Justice, for other causation.)
It is gratifying to note that Renaud and Westberg listed our partner Jo Ann Hardesty as an ‘individual’ bearing oversight responsibility. By introducing three personal bills, we sought state legislation to address multi-jurisdictional failures. We believe in checks and balances – particularly at state and county levels – since so many city agencies have been co-opted. (Policy lobbyists countered our legislative efforts, falsely contending problems are confined to Portland alone.)
Primarily focused on County District Attorneys, Renaud and Westberg also listed ‘media.’ We could devote an entire post to evaluating media scrutiny: mainstream reporters rely heavily on our Police Information Officer for their work product; we live in an era where investigative journalism is not considered sufficiently profitable to obtain worthy perspective. We realize media reporting props up false community perceptions of black criminality, and exposes people of color’s devalued lives to unchecked lethal harm by the government.
We understand our County DA also relies on police, in the performance of his duty. We are gratified the nation can now appreciate prosecutors’ reluctance to expose co-workers to a trial of facts among adversaries. (Arbitrary power is checked when Internal Affairs assertions are tested in open court.) We have assembled evidence in study of the Keaton Otis homicide which illuminate the means by which DAs finesse the grand jury process, in subversion of just outcomes.
Film-makers and authors make note: we possess reams of evidence generated by the Otis case. Buried among our documents lies a report by the “one honest man.” A mid-level state forensics analyst would not co-sign one element of the police narrative: he would not set his signature to a fabrication about projectile trajectory.
We became aware that a knot of folks with medical degrees populate Renaud and Westberg’s list.
There may be value in spurring those with medical degrees – who serve law enforcement – to ‘get in the game.’
It’s not as if we are enamored of care providers. (See our note on Dr. Corey, below.) The State of Black Oregon lays out in painful detail race-based disparities in access to, diagnosis and delivery of care in our state. Medical personnel stood idle after James Chasse (right) suffered mortal police injury. (American Medical Response paid $600,000 as their share of a wrongful death settlement.) DoJ Findings (pg. 13) reveal Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare workers inactive as cops wielded illegal force on clients in their ‘care.’
The City’s plea deal with the Feds fuses policing with delivery of mental health care. We contend cops are not temperamentally suited to nurture. They did not choose such a career path, nor have they spent those careers perfecting appropriate tools. We advocated for a reduction in police roles … to remove from cops their proclivity to punish. We believe the Constitution places that decision on the judiciary, in our system of checks and balances.
While we would much prefer that society keeps cops in their career path, confining them to detection of crime and apprehension of suspects, partner Jo Ann Hardesty offers a wistful question:
“What if we required police to now take the Hippocratic Oath?”
Sadly, the dictum, “first, do no harm,” is not in the actual Oath. We do believe re-purposing police as first-responders to those in medical need should not be false pretense, as have been so many previous reforms. We live in a world where paper policy has little effect over police action in the field. Without first reconciling defined training deficiencies, local authority intends to send bullies through brief coursework and expect personal transformation in a corrupt and unrepentant police culture.
It might help reform police misconduct, to require a sacred oath … beyond theirs to protect the Constitution (which the Feds proved local police had failed to uphold). We favor any act likely to raise ethical conduct.
Imagine a re-swearing in ceremony, as police accept new roles in mental health assessment and diversion to care. With the public in attendance, and approximating as much sacredness as flim-flam chicanery of Portland politics will allow, we might hear this conclusion (used in medical schools today):
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.
We regret the contemporary omission of the counter-position, which concluded the original Greek code:
Should I trespass and violate this Oath, may the reverse be my lot!
African American pastors initiated a call for investigation which led to Department of Justice Findings of illegal police conduct. While we’re imagining officers vowing to adopt humane practices, it’d be nice to think they would do so under supervision by the august Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform.
We’re community-based organizers. Renaud & Westberg have informed us there are many who are not among the general public … but to whom our protest sign might be directed.
*Note: In actuality, when one begins to grasp the broad arena in which police self-exoneration is permitted, our List of those with Oversight Authority could accommodate dozens more agencies, individuals and organizations. Renaud & Westberg began their Many Levels of Oversight by referencing “screening during the hiring process.” We named Dr. David Corey outright in our revision.
We can only assume Corey took the Hippocratic Oath. We can assert he’s certified – as fit to serve – others who have done great harm. We have never heard his screening process has been improved (or that he’s been directed to do so), to better detect and exclude police candidate proclivity toward deception, violence or propensity for dissension.
We assert Corey screens for those qualities. We have evidence of officer candidates predicting their evaluation will value deception. We contend one indication that civilian oversight is likely to be effective will be a police riot, or work stoppage. (Police union responds, right, to discipline meted out to one of the officers who killed James Chasse.)
In 2012, our research and testimony halted PPB Chief Reese’s plans to summarily extend Corey’s contract to deliver psychological evaluations to PPB … almost into it’s second decade of non-competitive bidding. Mayor Adams realized by our testimony that the Chief was not merely settling back-due invoices, but substantially re-extending a relationship which no doubt contributes to violent proclivities and other deficiencies in PPB culture. Adams withdrew the contract and put his police liaison in relationship with partner Roger David Hardesty.
We produced this survey of recognized leaders in Corey’s field, as preparation for a national candidate search, based on identified best practices in delivering psych services in policing … throughout an officers’ career.
Mayor Hales attained the office and assumed responsibilities of Police Commissioner to his own portfolio. Portland City Council then subverted the open evaluation process Adams had begun. Disregarding our follow-up testimony, Council simply rubber-stamped Corey’s contract extension.
Portland City Council followed their demonstrated incuriosity about best practices by then re-extending the City’s contract with the Portland Police Association for five years. This strategic collaboration with the police union delayed reforms indicated by the City’s own consultants (the OIR Group) and Department of Justice investigators, who counseled it was wise to remove provisions allowing police officers forty-eight hours’ down time prior to making report following use of deadly force. The Bureau employs this interval to cook up ‘plausible but untrue’ accounts of the homicide, which are then reported out by the Internal Affairs Unit. Arbitration provisions in the PPA contract have exclusively benefited police on rare occasions when they are held accountable for out-of-policy use of force. Arbitrators have reversed every officer discipline meted out by City Council.
Checks and balances are not only in abeyance; they are dangerous for their simulation. Public confidence is supported while end results thwart justice delivery. For those who assume checks and balances are in place, we must point out that the mechanisms all reference and draw from police aspirations. If America values self-governance, we assert readers must agitate to bring other roles into the evaluation of police conduct.