Portland police, Justice Department agree on excessive force reform

Story highlights

  • Justice Department, Portland police agree on reform, monitoring
  • Police Department had been accused of using excessive force on mentally ill people
  • Independent officer would take public feedback, measure compliance
The Justice Department and Portland, Oregon, have reached an agreement for the reform and monitoring of the city's police department after an investigation determined that police often used excessive force, including Tasers, on the mentally ill in situations involving low-level offenses.
The Justice Department said Monday the two sides filed a proposed agreement in federal court that would be court supervised if approved.
The plan calls for changes in the Portland Police Bureau's training, policies and supervision. The agreement also provides for an independent compliance officer and community liaison who would examine data about the department's use of force and report to the Justice Department, the city council and the public. The public also would be able to give feedback on whether the police are meeting the provisions of the agreement.
The proposed agreement was filed on the same day the Justice Department filed a civil suit under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, charging there were violations of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.
According to the suit, the Portland Police Bureau "engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force on individuals with actual or perceived mental illness in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and other laws of the United States."
If the agreement on court-monitored reforms is approved, the Justice Department and the city of Portland would ask that the suit be dismissed.
According to court documents, Portland police authorities disagreed with the findings of excessive force but were willing to enter into the agreement with the Justice Department "out of a mutual desire to protect the constitutional rights of all members of the Portland community, to continuously improve the safety and security of the people of Portland, to keep (Portland Police Bureau) employees safe, and to increase public confidence in PPB, all in a cost-effective, timely, and collaborative manner."
The Justice Department began its investigation into whether Portland's police engaged in a pattern of using excessive force in June 2011.
"I am confident that the reforms mandated by this agreement will result in a Portland Police Bureau that provides police services in a constitutional manner and that better protects the community," said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.