PPB’s directives up for feedback, closing Friday, July 15

The Portland Police Bureau has SIX directives with public comment periods ending tomorrow, Friday, July 15. Another closes on Saturday, July 16.

These policy changes may not represent real change in the department, but they are an opportunity to look at how PPB thinks about force and speak out about the consequences of PPB’s actions.

Before we get into the specific directives, a few quick reminders about the commenting process for anyone that plans to participate:

  • PPB’s feedback forms ask for names and contact information. You don’t need to include that information with a comment, and most people don’t, including respondents who seem to be part of PPB based on their comments (such as pointing to discrepancies between their training and directive updates).
  • However, PPB uses SurveyMonkey to collect feedback, which automatically tracks IP addresses of respondents unless feedback collectors specifically turn off the ability to do so on each form.
  • Comments are published as part of the review process. If you look through the past comments, you’ll see a mix of useful responses (mostly from Copwatch), blank responses, variations on the theme of “Fuck PPB”, and questions about specific phrasing.
  • In theory, six of the seven directives discussed below have faced one round of review and comments and are now in the ‘Second Universal Review and Public Comment Period.’ In actuality, several of these policies have been through their second review and comment period at least once in the past year.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the seven directives with immediate feedback deadlines.

Response to Mental Health Crisis

Directive and Public Comment Form

This policy describes how PPB officers are expected to respond to mental health crises. PPB’s responses to such situations are routinely violent — the U.S. Department of Justice’s oversight of PPB’s actions directly resulted from PPB officer Ron Frashour’s killing of Aaron Campbell while Campbell was experiencing a mental health crisis (as well as multiple other PPB killings that predated Campbell’s death).

Proposed updates to the directive are relatively minor, such as removing a mnemonic for certain steps officers are expected to take. The strategies that have been available to police remain available, from choosing to disengage from someone they could legally take into custody to calling in the Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team. It’s worth noting that PPB officer Zachary DeLong, who killed Robert Delgado in 2021 was an ECIT member. Any updates to this policy wouldn’t have changed DeLong’s actions, however, since no responder coded the call as mental health-related.

Readers may be surprised to find no mention of Portland Street Response in the directive. However, PPB refuses to allow unarmed responders to go out on crises calls involving people who are suicidal, where people are indoors, or if a weapon is potentially involved. Furthermore, during contract negotiations, the Portland Police Association required written guarantees that PSR couldn’t be used to to reduce PPB’s workforce and that PSR, 911 call center officials, and PPA would negotiate exactly which types of calls PSR would be allowed to answer.

The directive includes several changes where the verb ‘will’ is swapped out for ‘shall.’ The word ‘shall’ is intended to communicate a stronger requirement, but it’s probably not going to make a difference to most readers. It’s also not a change that matches good governance practices; the U.S. federal government suggests avoiding using “shall” in legislative, policy, and legal writing, because it’s been so corrupted by misuse. Instead, using the word “must” is recommended to communicate a specific duty or requirement.

Medical Aid

Directive and Public Comment Form

Understanding the updates to this directive requires knowing the directive’s history: it was updated in early January 2021 to include requirements that PPB officers take actions to help protestors access care when officers use chemical incapacitants or sound devices. That update included an instruction that police officers should not prevent medical services (including non-certified medics) from providing medical aid.

That requirement is gone in this new update, although it was still present when the Medical Aid directive underwent a Second Universal Review in April. As PPB officers have routinely prevented protest medics from providing aid even in life-threatening situations, this removal is especially concerning. 

The new version also eliminates requirements for PPB officers to provide information to medical responders or medical facilities, as well as notifying corrections staff of injuries and treatment after moving to corrections from hospital. There’s also a change of wording in the requirement for ‘post-force medical aid’: PPB officers will be expected to request EMS “as soon as possible” after using force on a person who is injured, pregnant, a child, or medically fragile instead of “at the earliest available opportunity.” Since the directive maintains expectations that officers should always prioritize ‘neutralizing immediate threats’ and ‘apprehending dangerous subjects’ before providing any medical aid, the change in language likely won’t change how officers handle real-world medical emergencies.

Response to Mental Health Facilities

Directive and Public Comment Form

The updates to this policy are in line with those described for the directive covering responding to mental health facilities above. The same mnemonic device has been removed: ROADMAP is intended to help officers remember tactics taught in training.

  • R, for request specialized units
  • O, for observe or use surveillance to monitor subject or situation
  • A, for area containment
  • D, for disengage with a plan to resolve later
  • M, for more resources / summon reinforcements
  • A, for arrest delayed (for a warrant or at a different location)
  • P, for patience and using communication to deescalate the situation.

In comments submitted during previous feedback cycles, Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch noted, “We continue to believe the PPB should change its inadequate ‘ROADMAP’ mnemonic for handling possible mental health crisis situations. The concept of ‘Patience’ should not be the last item on the list. There are also two letter ‘A’s, with one standing for ‘Area Containment’ and one for ‘Arrest Delayed,’ which can cause confusion. We suggested changing the mnemonic to ‘PD-MACRO,” with the items listed as:

  • Patience
  • Disengagement
  • More Resources
  • Arrest Delayed
  • Containment
  • Request Specialized Units
  • Observe or use surveillance.

‘PD’ should be easy for officers to remember, even though locals know our Department is the PPB. We note here again that officers can use all of these tactics (as well as non-engagement) on someone regardless of whether that person is in mental health crisis as alternatives to using force.”

Peace Officer Custody (Civil)

Directive and Public Comment Form

This directive covers situations in which PPB officers detain a person for reasons unrelated to crime, such as a person deemed to be a threat to themselves. The changes are limited to bringing the directive into line with updates to other policies, including removing the ROADMAP directive and shifting ‘will’ to ‘shall’.

But this request for feedback has something none of the others have — a brief timeline of updates to the directive! The lack of such information makes it harder to provide useful feedback from Portland residents. The omission of such information on other directive reviews, combined with the red-line approach to communicating changes, hint at a lack of interest in any community feedback gathered by PPB.

Response to Mental Health Director Holds and Elopement

Directive and Public Comment Form

Building on the directives discussed above, this policy focuses on how PPB officers are expected to interact with someone being held in a mental health facility or who has left such a facility without the facility’s permission (which is legally described as ‘elopement’).

Again, the updates are mostly intended to bring this directive into line with those above. There are some additional changes in terminology: for instance, ‘delaying custody’ is now ‘disengaging with a plan.’

Procedural Justice

Directive and Public Comment Form

This particular document is especially difficult to read because it’s watermarked with “Draft” in darker gray lettering than is used on others. PPB’s approach to gathering feedback is really only standardized on the surface. The directive is meant to cover ways to make policing at least seem more fair to people experiencing it. It emphasizes perception over actually making processes more just.

One update to the policy is particularly concerning. Previous versions included an instruction that officers are to “inform the individual of their ability to leave or withdraw from the interaction” when interacting with people. That instruction has been changed to read, “When asked, tell the person whether or not they are free to leave, if feasible.” The change puts more responsibility on individuals to know their legal rights in detail. This is part of a trend giving police officers more opportunities to take advantage of anyone without a law degree, along with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that police are not obligated to inform people of their right to not self-incriminate.

The new version also eliminates an instruction to keep pedestrian and traffic stops to a reasonable amount of time and certain reporting requirements. The changes effectively loosen restrictions on stop-and-frisk techniques.

Vehicle Interventions and Pursuits

Directive and Public Comment Form

Public comments on this policy are due on Saturday, July 16. It’s still in the first stage of the review process, so we’re just looking at the policy as it currently stands. PPB’s history of vehicle interventions is as concerning as any other part of the bureau’s history. One incident happened last December, where PPB officers shot a driver after causing the driver to crash their vehicle as part of a vehicle intervention.

The policy lists a variety of strategies that PPB uses in vehicle interventions, most of which are meant to create controlled crashes, as opposed to other ends to a pursuit. Some of these strategies are considered to be force, and therefore subject to PPB’s Use of Force directive. Others, including laying stop or spike strips in a vehicle’s path, are not. That’s a fine line to parse with a technique that the FBI has warned police departments against using for the past decade (more due to risks to police officers during deployment than the drivers of vehicles that crash as a result of spike strip).

Upcoming public comment deadlines

In addition to the directives discussed above, four additional directives are up for review, with comments closing at the end of the month. Those include:

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from Autostraddle.com to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at ThursdayBram.com.