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  Portland Copwatch
(a project of Peace and Justice Works)
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065 (office)
(503) 321-5120 (incident report line)

While Recommendations are Welcome, Like the Report, They are Too Weak

(November 18, 2010, corrected version)

Portland Copwatch (PCW) welcomes the long-awaited audit of Portland Police use of Tasers, particularly the suggestions to further limit their use. However, overall the audit is a great disappointment and seems to ask limited questions considering it has been in the works for over a year.

Requiring a higher threshold before Tasers can be deployed and instructing officers not to use multiple shocks, two of the report's recommendations, can't be emphasized enough. In fact, the report's authors could have made a stronger case for the Bureau to tighten its policy and training had the following problems been corrected before they published the audit:

1--The people conducting the survey did not question whether using Tasers was appropriate--they simply asked whether they were "effective"; the worst example of this is that they did not interview civilians who have been hit by Tasers (see page 16).

2--They greatly minimize the fact that hundreds of people have been documented to have died after the use of Tasers around the US and North America, including a man in Portland (Timothy Grant), a dog in Portland (Willamette Week July 13, 2005), and at least four other people in Oregon (Nick Hanson in Ashland in 2006, Gregory Rold in Salem last year, Daniel Barga in Cornelius and Phyllis Owens in Clackamas this year.)

3--They repeatedly use language that presumes the police point of view is fact: a) Throughout the summary, and in most of the document, they refer to Tasers (and other weapons) as "tools." This mindset is partly what leads to Tasers being used on a daily basis in Portland rather than being things that are used only in rare situations. b) When analyzing the 50 incidents they used to write the report, they take the word of the police reports as gospel-- talking about how the situation was resolved well and that there is no explanation for how suspects received injuries without examining further. (There's no mention either if there was a complaint filed on any of the 50 cases, whether they read the internal affairs interviews, or court transcripts in cases of lawsuits.) c) They use the term "agitated delirium"* throughout, which, while used by the Bureau, is not necessarily a real medical condition. It's a term that Taser Inc started using to explain why so many people have died after use of Tasers. (One of their main sources on this topic is a paper from the Force Science Research Center in Manakato, Minnesota, an institute which seems to have been established with the sole goal of proving reasons to exonerate officers in any force or deadly force encounter.)

4--Their auditing is sloppy. a) The statement that Tasers were "effective" in all 50 cases because deadly force was not used (p. 23) is an absurd scientific conclusion when examining weapons that are over-used as compliance tools. To reach a valid conclusion they would have to examine whether deadly force would have been justified in all 50 cases, which is extremely unlikely. b) The graph showing a dip in Taser use is wrong. The audit appears to have included the "Laser Sight Only" data that was available from 2005-2007 in their graph on p. 9. The Portland Mercury (Nov. 27, 2008) and the Independent Police Review Division/Portland Police Bureau's Use of Force Reports have shown that Taser use has remained steady while other uses of force dropped. The Mercury reported that Tasers were used 541 times in 2006, and 476 times in 2007, yet the graph indicates numbers between 800 and 1000 for those years. c) In noting that the PPB stopped using the "Laser Sight only" checkbox on the Use of Force form (p. 32), they fail to weigh in on whether or not the PPB should return to using this important statistic. PCW has mentioned repeatedly that when a person sees something that looks like a firearm pointed at them with a red laser dot on their chest, they fear for their lives, and therefore, Portland should keep these statistics. d) The report doesn't mention that 18% of cases in the city's two Use of Force Reports involved officers who reported no resistance or mere failure to comply with commands, nor why those incidents were not investigated as misconduct.

5) There is no analysis of the bullying tactics used by Taser, Inc to quiet its critics. Taser goes out of its way to get jurisdictions not to blame their product for deaths in custody, and they have a lot of money to do so thanks to their skyrocketing stock prices that made them billionaires. Portland Copwatch received an email from one of their owners early on which referred to Amnesty International in derogatory terms. http://www.portlandcopwatch.org/PPR38/tasers38.html

We're talking here about a weapon that jolts someone with 50,000 volts of electricity and disables their ability to use their motor skills. This is not a "tool", and while it may not cause injuries such as bruises or cuts (p. 9-10), it hurts like hell while it's being applied. That is an injury. Just ask reporter Nick Budnick of the Willamette Week, who was voluntarily shocked (Willamette Week, Feb. 4, 2004).

Portland Copwatch intends to further scrutinize the report for points of agreement and omissions/errors. For more information contact PCW at 503-236-3065 or copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

The report can be found at http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=51639&a=326891

*-Although the conventional term for this non-medically recognized condition is "Excited delirium," we still have concerns that it is being used to explain deaths of people who may otherwise have survived if not engaged with police officers and shocked by them.


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

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Page posted November 19, 2010; last updated November 23, 2010