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Comments on the Training Advisory Council's Recommendations on Use of Force Training and Reporting
by Portland Copwatch
July 12, 2016

To the Training Advisory Council:

We want to begin by congratulating the Training Advisory Council (TAC) for putting out its first comprehensive recommendations for the Police Bureau < http://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/581581>. That said, it is disappointing how much of the document has to do with how to deliver training and so little to do with how to reduce the use of force used against Portlanders, particularly against vulnerable populations. The TAC asserts in its Use of Force Summary Reports section that they are unable to analyze the existing data on Use of Force because of the Committee's limited ability to conduct such analysis, and because there has not been enough time to see trends. The TAC has been in operation for four years. The data have been generated for three years, and have consistently shown that African Americans, people experiencing houselessness, and people with mental health issues all receive a disproportionate amount of force. PCW has pointed this out repeatedly. When the TAC receives updates from the Bureau (less than quarterly, even though that is what's required in the Settlement Agreement), there are usually very few questions and the presentation mostly focuses on how much work goes into the reports.

The most salient section of the recommendations is the one addressing language used by the Bureau which can perpetuate an "us vs. them" mentality and which urges officers to twist the facts in order to justify their use of force. However, the irony of this section is that many of the recommendations are akin to saying "don't call a person a jackass, instead call them a donkey." To be fair, there are good recommendations here, including changing the words "application of tools" to "use of a weapon." The suggestion to change the PPB's language that tells officers to illustrate they used less force after getting a suspect into custody is good, but is awkwardly phrased. We suggest the TAC change their proposed language to say "If you reduced or terminated force as you gained compliance, note that in the report," rather than "If you can report that as you gained compliance or domination of a suspect, you reduced or terminated force, do so."

On the other hand, the section which tells officers not to subject themselves to "unnecessary legal or administrative review" has only been rewritten from saying "After having survived and been victorious in a force encounter, don't later become a victim to [such review]" (PPB) to "After using force appropriately and successfully do not expose yourself or the Bureau to [such review] by failing to thoroughly justify your actions" (TAC). The point is to get officers to write honest and full reports, and the broader context is that each and every use of force incident is investigated for an After Action report/misconduct, and every deadly force incident goes to a grand jury. So legal and administrative review are generally happening anyway, it's not clear why they would be referred to as "unnecessary" or why the officer is asked to "justify" his/her actions rather than to explain the thought process behind them. There are many other examples, including statements that officers are "required" to use force in some situations, asking officers to judge whether a witness makes a "negative report" that they "don't feel is accurate" (rather than just taking statements and letting other people decide on the credibility), and uses the term "customer service" when, as we've noted many times before, people do not go into the "police store" and ask for help picking out a pair of jeans. Officers usually come upon people and assert themselves in ways that are intrusive and unpleasant. Why not use professional and polite policing or some other term?

We also want to highlight the discussion about the Department of Justice's own analysis of the "us vs. them" mentality and the TAC's asking the Bureau to stop using both analogies of the public as sheep and the police as sheepdogs, and the term "warrior mentality." PCW has seen these analogies in the Portland Police Association newsletter, but did not realize they were actively part of the PPB training as well.

It was interesting to learn that until the group working on the language issues was put in place, the TAC never had full access to Training Division documents. Having signed confidentiality forms, they were asked to examine documents at the Bureau and leave their notes behind. It's no wonder we haven't seen any meaningful recommendations until now.

The second most important section is the one on the Use of Force Summary Reports. Unfortunately, the TAC did not take the advice that Portland Copwatch offered* and left information about the content of the reports buried deep in their recommendations in this section. The recommendations ask the Bureau to create charts about how accurate and complete their data are, which is interesting but should be an appendix to a report on how often force is used, what types, and against whom. The TAC makes an interesting recommendation for the PPB to separate out how often force is used on officer-initiated calls versus ones that come from the public. PCW would support that addition to the reports.

This section and the ones on coaching trainers and evaluation are also full of the kind of technical jargon PCW cautioned against in our previous comments. Here's the first recommendation as an example (_underscores_ around jargon): "TAC recommends that the Training Division support a possible re-institution of Use of Force summary report review among officers with newly created _ancillary training materials._ TAC suggests transferring and adapting key Use of Force learning activities, _visualizations_, games and _focused conversations in bound flashcard sets_ for quick review during shift changes across precincts. TAC members have _learning product examples of 'Toolbox Talkcards'_ for consideration." What?

This section also has a long aside about how institutional change can take a long time after that point has already been made, albeit using the jargon-y term "Organizational Change Management."

While PCW is sympathetic to the difficulty of people having to adopt new policies rapidly in a working environment, it's disturbing to read how making changes to reduce use of force, improve officer accountability and improve community-police relations are causing "fatigue" and "low morale" among officers. The TAC's suggestion of reminding the officers that in the long term it will make Portland a better place to work is a good one; we would add that adopting better practices will also give officers more credibility with the community.

PCW is very supportive of the recommendation to "reinstate the section 'Total Suspects Involved in PPB Use of Force Incidents' as per its inclusion in earlier reports as to provide regular insight into demographic breakdowns of Use of Force incidents." This should be the #1 recommendation in this section. We also agree that the Bureau should not tell the TAC that collecting data on certain subjects is "unviable" because it comes from the Bureau of Emergency Communications, and, as the Committee suggests, the PPB should help find ways to get more data rather than shut down requests.

In the evaluation and assessment section, the TAC makes an interesting but potentially alarming recommendation: That any advisory body to the police send their recommendations about training to the TAC for vetting. It certainly is a good idea for the other bodies making suggestions (the Citizen Review Committee, the Community Oversight Advisory Board, the Police Review Board and the Community/Police Relations Committee when it exists) to bounce their ideas off of the TAC for perspective. However, the TAC is wholly appointed by and governed by the Bureau, while the CRC is attached to the Auditor's Independent Police Review Division and the COAB was created to independently assess implementation of the DOJ Agreement (whether everyone agrees on what "independent" means in either case is another discussion). PCW strongly supports cross- communication among the advisory bodies, but not the idea of the TAC acting as a "gatekeeper." This is particularly important since the TAC reveals (in its appendix) that one reason it did not make more recommendations about how officers use force is that at a February Q&A session, the PPB "satisfied" the TAC on content issues, yet nobody recorded or produced notes from that meeting. (TAC calls this an "oversight," it seems more like a continuation of the poor communication from the TAC to the community that's happened since day one.)

The TAC also accuses other advisory bodies of making recommendations that do not align with best practices, but doesn't give any examples of the recommendations, the best practices, or which bodies it's concerned about. There's a suggestion that the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison is not pushing for the use of the "Kirkpatrick model," even though the COCL's outcomes and assessment reports all push heavily for that method of analysis. (However, like the COCL, the TAC talks about "level 3" and "level 4" without summarizing what those mean.)

The opening section on coaching trainers contains one of the best-- and clearest-- recommendations in the report, though it's in the "findings" section as a summary of how the other recommendations should benefit the PPB: "designing courses that address the balanced concerns of the Bureau and the community."

A lot of the rest of that section begins with clear, plain-English descriptions of how the Training Division instructors need to learn how to design their classes for maximum effectiveness, but then devolves into jargon such as "training content development methodologies," "providing a natural path to the incorporation of analytically derived findings into the training development process" and "connect training developers to initial skill level and gap assessments." It also feels a bit uncomfortable that there are TAC members who are professional trainers who might benefit from the PPB bringing on people to fulfill these recommendations, though the suggestion specifically calls for "a pool of local volunteer training developers" indicating perhaps no money will be involved.

Finally, we would recommend that the TAC use better formatting in the final version of this report. The sections are not consistent in how they present background vs. recommendations. The recommendations are only numbered sequentially within each section-- the sections could be assigned letters, or the recommendations could be numbered ordinally from #1-#23. The parts where the TAC is suggesting rewrites to the PPB language could use italics, underlines, strikethroughs or other indicators to be clear what is being added/deleted. (This is the same problem we have reviewing proposed PPB Directives, where we have to go through line by line to see what was being changed.)

We hope that the TAC will consider these comments and perhaps make one more version of the report before finalizing it with the Bureau, to the extent possible given that In-Service training will be starting soon this year. We thank you for the opportunity to comment and look forward to the July 13 meeting where the recommendations will be discussed.

--dan handelman
--Portland Copwatch

* our comments are attached in the TAC's appendix
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Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

Posted August 11, 2016

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