Proposal to create police UOF database goes before Ore. lawmakers

Police lobbyists questioned the objective of the proposal and said they worried the officers’ names could be used to vilify officers


By Maxine Bernstein
oregonlive.com

SALEM, Ore. — The state Criminal Justice Commission would create a new public database that captures reports on the use or threatened use of force by each police or corrections officer, under a bill heard by an Oregon House subcommittee Wednesday.

State Rep. Maxine Dexter, a proponent of House Bill 2932, argued that it would help create a “culture of accountability and transparency” that would improve the performance of officers.

Others in support said they believe it would deter more officers from using excessive force than training would, help provide a true accounting of police actions and identify problematic officers.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Janelle Bynum, D- Clackamas, is one of a number of police reform and criminal justice proposals introduced this legislative session and supported by a 12-member Black, Indigenous and People of Color Caucus. A House subcommittee on equitable policing, which Bynum chairs, held Wednesday’s hearing.

Police lobbyists questioned the objective of the proposal and said they worried the officers’ names in such a database would be used to vilify officers or physically endanger them or their families.

Michael Selvaggio, who represents the Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs, made up of rank-and-file officers and sheriff’s deputies, called the bill too broad, arguing that tracking officers’ threats of force was unnecessary, as those sometimes are helpful “de-escalation” strategies to prevent actual use of force.

There is no public database in the state that tracks officers’ widespread use of force. Police agencies now are required to report police use of deadly force to the Oregon Department of Justice.

A national FBI database was created in January 2019, collecting reports on police use of force involving serious physical injury, death of a person or shots fired at or in the direction of a person. Currently, it’s voluntary for police agencies to provide the data to the FBI.

The state Department of Public Safety Standards & Training has a database of all officers’ names, dates of their certification and training that the public can access. It also recently added an online database that tracks if the state agency is reviewing an officer’s state certification for alleged misconduct, and if the certification was suspended or revoked.

Proponents seeking a state use of force database contend the FBI database is inadequate because agencies aren’t required to share their use of force reports.

The Oregon Commissions on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs, Black Affairs, Hispanic Affairs and Commission for Women issued a joint statement in support of the bill.

“Without this type of reporting, tracking, and analysis there can be no full understanding of the systemic violence that have blighted our communities, and harmed our citizens, too often to death where other means of de-escalation and other modalities lead to better outcomes for all,” the statement said.

The database also will help track officers who routinely use force or are disciplined for over-use of force, if they tend to move from one agency to another, the commission said.

HB 2932 would require law enforcement agencies to provide information describing the circumstances when a police officer or corrections officer uses any physical force or threatens to use physical force against an individual.

Criminal defense lawyer Rachel Phillips urged that any database on police use of force in the state contain the officers’ names, and not allow officers to be identified by a non-traceable number. Phillips said the information on officers’ use of force would be helpful to defense lawyers in challenging cases against their clients, information that she argued isn’t always turned over as required.

“We need to make sure this information is getting to the defense and the public to ensure a fair trial,” she said.

Jim Ferraris, Woodburn police chief and president of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police, said money shouldn’t go toward supporting another database, when there’s a national one in place that the state can rely on to conduct force analyses.

Ferraris and Brian Wallace, Marion County’s chief civil deputy who sits on an advisory task force for the FBI national use of force database, recommended instead that the state require all Oregon law enforcement agencies to enroll and report data to the FBI database.

“We really believe funding that would go to this could be more effectively invested in use of force and de-escalation training so it could give us more tools so we can use less force,” Ferraris told the committee.

In 2020, 74 out of 171 agencies in Oregon participated and provided use-of-force data to the FBI. The officers employed by these agencies represent 71% of sworn law enforcement officers in the state.

Brian Hunzeker, president of the Portland Police Association, urged police union members to write to lawmakers in opposition of the bill. The notice to union members said the bill “ambiguously-defined uses or threats of force, unnecessarily conflates cases of alleged misconduct with standard procedures and could dangerously expose officers’ personal information.”

State Rep. Rick Lewis, R- Silverton, said he had concerns about requiring reports on threatened use of force by police.

“If an officer threatens to send a police dog in and the person voluntarily surrenders instead or threatens to use a Taser to gain compliance and the result is no one gets injured, I’m concerned that officer is going to go into a database when he’s actually de-escalating a situation,” Lewis said.

Juan Chavez, an attorney with the Oregon Justice Resource Center, and other supporters of the bill noted that officers’ names and the agencies they work for already are in the state public safety standards’ database.

“We cannot condone having secret police with secret identities and secret tactics,” he said. “That’s not what our communities want.”

Ken Sanchagrin, executive director of Oregon’s Criminal Justice Commission, said the agency is still calculating how many additional employees and how much funding would be required to create such a database.

(c)2021 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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