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Police Take Heat for Rules Shielding Cops from Shooting Investigations

Thursday, December 04, 2014

 

Representatives from the Portland Police Bureau were unable to explain the reasoning behind a procedure Wednesday, that prevents officers involved in shootings from answering questions from investigators during the 48 hours immediately following the incident.

An audit of Portland’s police procedures was recently released by OIR Group, and discussed at a Dec. 3 Portland City Council meeting. In its audit, the California-based firm recommended that the Portland Police Bureau consider changes to 21 of its current procedures. Out of the 21 changes recommended to police, the Portland Police Bureau disagreed, at least in some part, with four suggestions.

One of the disagreements between the auditors and police leaders was the suggestion to Portland Police Bureau changing an internal rule that shields officers involved in shootings from providing statements that could be used against them in a criminal investigation.

The Portland Police Bureau does allow its officers to give a voluntary statement to detectives before they’re cleared to leave the scene. Statements during the first 48 hours can only be used to aid “administrative investigations,” which can determine whether an officer was appropriate in his or her use of force.

The protection clause is guaranteed in officer's contracts. When City Council members asked Portland police Assistant Chief Donna Henderson what prompted both the city and the union representing the police agree to the measure, Henderson said that she didn't know, because the bargaining was handled by the Portland Police Association.

A number of citizens also voiced their displeasure to members of the City Council during its Dec. 3 afternoon session.

“We really want to see this go away,” Portland Copwatch Organizer Dan Hendlemen said.

Over the last 23 years, Hendleman said there have been approximately 123 police officer-involved fatalities which led to a total of one indictment.

Hendleman suggested that Portland police stop worrying about potential indictments against officers and instead focus on conducting an effective investigation.

Police representatives defended their procedure, calling it “a human issue.”

The extra time provided to officers allow them to think clearly the details of a shooting, Portland Police Commander George Burke said.

“There are some officers who have been involved in shooting who are fully capable of giving a statement fairly early in the incident,” Burke said. “We’ve had other officers who have been absolutely traumatized to the point where being able to provide useful information for us at that point would not have netted us any value.”

A number of citizens also voiced their displeasure to members of the City Council during its Dec. 3 afternoon session.

“If you think we’re a pain in the neck,” Joe Walsh from Individuals for Justice, said, “the next wave is going to be really bad — and you’re seeing it now.”

 

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