Portland Police Draft Revisions to Use of Force Policies, Release Settlement with DOJ

UPDATE - The City of Portland, PPB, and USDOJ have reached agreement on the terms of their settlement. The ACLU has reviewed this agreement and presented testimony at the City Council hearing on November 1.

October 25, 2012 - Prompted by a condemning report by the U.S. Department of Justice (USDOJ), which found that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has engaged in systemic overuse of force particularly against persons with mental illness, PPB drafted revisions to its policies on Use of Force, Use of Deadly Force, and Tasers. PPB posted these drafts for comment and the ACLU of Oregon has responded with detailed recommendations for improvement.

Our comments aim to bring greater clarity to the existing policies, underscoring the difference between the level of force that is constitutionally permitted and what is in the best interest of the officer, the subject he or she encounters, and the community as a whole. PPB policies should be more restrictive than what is technically permissible under the law. Officers should use the least amount of force necessary in each instance.

To affect this outcome, the draft Taser policy must also be amended. Our comments on this policy urge PPB to abandon the “active resistance” standard, which currently permits an officer to use a Taser on someone who simply tenses his or her muscles to try to resist an arrest. The principal justification for deploying a Taser is to prevent a situation from otherwise spiraling out of control to the point that an officer may need to resort to the use of deadly force. With such high stakes involved in deploying a weapon as dangerous as a Taser, authority for its use should be limited to, at the very least, a situation when a subject is displaying “active aggression.” In no circumstances should a Taser be used on someone exhibiting only passive resistance.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to urge PPB to incorporate all of the recommendations we present in our comments. PPB will be accepting comments from all members of the public on these drafts until November 2, 2012.

In addition to these comments on the draft policies, the ACLU of Oregon also recently submitted lengthy comments to USDOJ on the terms of a then-pending settlement agreement with PPB. We worked in collaboration with our allies to draft these recommendations, which touch on similar use of force issues but also cover additional areas including encounters with people with mental illness, racial profiling, officer training, and robust accountability measures to ensure that true reform happens at PPB.