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The Blame Game

Public Doesn't Trust IPR; Will Blackmer Take the Fall?



The city auditor needs to make changes to stop widespread public mistrust of the Independent Police Review (IPR) process, according to an independent consultant's report released last week.

"There is widespread community dissatisfaction with the Independent Police Review system," says the 186-page report, written by Arizona-based consultant Eileen Luna-Firebaugh. "There is a lack of trust that complaints about police misconduct are being seriously addressed."

The report continues: "The general conclusion of the consultants is that the system of civilian oversight, as manifested by the IPR and Citizens' Review Committee (CRC), does not have the confidence of the community. The question is why."

Which is where the controversy begins. The report appears to suggest that City Auditor Gary Blackmer is responsible for the IPR's problems, referring directly to Portland's choice of an "Auditor Model" of civilian oversight of police, in page two of its damning executive summary.

"In this model, there is one person who, depending on their individual ability and characteristics," says the report, "seeks to address police policy issues and the enhancement of accountability in a systemic way."

Blackmer did not return the Mercury's call for comment on the report by press time, nor did IPR Director Leslie Stevens, who announced last Thursday, January 24, that she plans to leave the IPR to head up the police bureau's Office of Professional Standards—a move the Oregonian's editorial board wrote on Saturday, January 26, "may suggest she's had a too-cozy relationship with the bureau."

Nevertheless, one city commissioner in particular is not so sure Blackmer should shoulder all the blame for the IPR's perceived lack of community trust.

"The mayor has not accepted his responsibility in all this," says City Commissioner Randy Leonard. "Why is the man who is supposed to be in charge of the police bureau [Mayor Tom Potter is police commissioner] seeking to hold the city auditor responsible?"

While he won't use the word "setup," it appears Leonard feels the mayor's office wanted to use Luna-Firebaugh's report as a way to justify making changes to the IPR by blaming Blackmer for its shortcomings, when public confidence in the police bureau's complaints process should be Potter's responsibility, Leonard thinks.

"I think the mayor's office had a distinct point of view about how the CRC works," says Leonard, "And they told that to [Luna-Firebaugh] and she was heavily influenced by the impression she got from the mayor's office."

Luna-Firebaugh responds: "I think it is unfortunate if [Commissioner Leonard] thinks I am biased. The only thing I am biased in favor of is good government."

The mayor's office, too, isn't buying it.

"Tom's not a big fan of sound-bite solutions, which is why he hired a nationally known expert to evaluate the program the city council enacted," says Potter's spokesman, John Doussard. "If there are improvements that need to be made, I know he looks forward to working with the council and Gary to make them."

Doussard also points out that the last four years of neighborhood surveys show that a majority of Portlanders have questions about the oversight system.

"That was enough for Tom to ask for an independent look," he says.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman agrees. "This report has been long overdue," he says. "I'm sure Randy's got it all connected on the wall of his office, but the report is certainly not motivated by any mayoral conspiracy."

Luna-Firebaugh's report will be formally presented to city council at the end of February, when Portland's city commissioners will have to decide whether or not to adopt some of its recommendations. One recommendation is to appoint independent investigators to look into complaints—something the IPR hasn't done in its six-year history, despite being technically authorized to do so. Instead, IPR has always sent complaints to the cops' own internal affairs detectives, prompting questions about the fairness of the process.

The report also recommends granting more authority to the CRC to decide when to hear complainants' appeals. The CRC used to have that authority, until IPR Director Stevens took it over in 2005. Between 2002 and 2004, the CRC heard 90 appeals, but since Stevens took over the decision-making, only 13 appeals have been heard, according to the report.

"Whatever new system we have has to transcend individual personalities," says Copwatch activist Dan Handelman. "It has to serve the people of Portland who feel they've been mistreated by police."


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