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Police Accountability System at Risk

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Voters want a new police accountability system, but the transition from old to new presents risks for the City. Council will hear the Auditor’s proposal to address the risks Thursday, March 11, at 2 p.m., along with other items related to the Auditor’s Office budget.

What role does Independent Police Review play in the police accountability system?
IPR is a division in the Auditor’s Office that takes and investigates misconduct complaints against Portland Police members. It is the only part of the investigative system located outside of the Police Bureau. IPR also reviews and must approve all cases investigated by the Police Bureau’s Internal Affairs unit, including officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. Analysts in IPR conduct reviews to identify policy gaps in the Police Bureau’s directives and practices and maintain public dashboards of complaint data.
 

What is Independent Police Review’s role in the City’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice?
IPR is responsible for requirements in the Officer Accountability chapter of the agreement that address timeliness and quality of investigations and other matters (pages 43-48). The Department of Justice recently found the City to be out of compliance with its obligation to complete investigations within 180 days.
 

What contributed to Independent Police Review’s inability to maintain compliance with the timeliness requirements?
An unprecedented number of complaints were filed in the summer and fall of 2020 stemming from nightly social justice protests. At the same time, a vacant investigator position could not be filled because of a hiring freeze, employees started taking 10 mandatory furlough days, and some were juggling home-schooling children during remote work. The summer’s activities combined swamped the system, and IPR and the Police Bureau have been working through a backlog of investigations since.
 

Which other sections of the settlement agreement fell out of compliance?
The Justice Department found in February 2021 that the City did not maintain compliance with four of seven sections. Besides accountability, the other sections were use of force, training, and community engagement. IPR has no role in meeting requirements in those sections.
 

What is the plan for Independent Police Review to get back into compliance with the investigative timeliness requirements in the settlement agreement?
Resources from throughout the Auditor’s Office have been reassigned or made available to IPR to help dig out of the backlog. The Auditor reassigned an employee from the Ombudsman’s Office to help backfill the vacant IPR investigator position, which could not be filled after voters decided in November 2020 to replace the existing police accountability system, including IPR. The General Counsel has been assigned some IPR responsibilities, and the Chief Deputy and Operations Management division will assume others as needed. IPR’s management team has reset internal deadlines hopefully to complete existing cases before the seasonal increase in complaints that usually occurs during warmer months. It is important to note that steps to get back into compliance depend on maintaining IPR’s current staffing levels.
 

Why is Independent Police Review preparing to cease operations in June 2022?
Voters approved the creation of a new accountability board in November 2020. Council estimated it would take 18 months to establish it, and the ballot measure’s sponsor said IPR employees would not be transferred to become the new board’s investigative staff.
 

What if Independent Police Review employees start leaving for other jobs before then?
It is unreasonable for anyone to think IPR employees will stay in their jobs if they are not incentivized by measurable assurance from City Council of continued employment after June 2022. What’s at stake for the City in the interim is delayed substantial compliance with the settlement agreement and failure to meet its Code obligation to the public to provide civilian oversight of police.
 

What do you mean by “measurable assurance” of continued employment?
Actions over promises. The Auditor’s requested budget includes a proposal to establish an Evaluation and Investigative Services, which would be home to IPR employees after their investigative responsibilities wind down by June 30, 2022. Council’s approval would be measurable assurance. The new division would capitalize on the employees’ investigative and analytical strengths and apply them in a variety of municipal subject areas. Find more information about Evaluation and Investigative Services on our website.
 

What if the new accountability board approved by voters isn’t ready by then?
The City will need an interim plan to take and investigate police misconduct complaints. The greater danger will be if a plan is not in place to incentivize IPR employees to stay in their current jobs for the next year or so. Navigating the transition to the new accountability board will be easier with IPR staff than without it.
 

How many employees work in Independent Police Review?
Fourteen. IPR work is divided into two units. The investigative unit is made up of six investigators and a lead investigator. Three employees are assigned to the policy analysis and outreach unit. The management team consists of a director, deputy director, investigations coordinator, and policy and outreach coordinator.

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