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'Accountability is elusive': Audit calls for Portland transit police reform

The Independent Police Review's audit says the makeup of the transit division is not well understood by the public.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Accountability for Portland’s transit police falls short of the community’s expectations, an audit by the city’s Independent Police Review concluded.

TriMet currently contracts with 14 law enforcement agencies to police the public transit system, and the Portland Police Bureau’s transit division oversees the officers working under the contracts.

According to the audit released Tuesday, the management model “leads to some adverse outcomes with community members when they have a negative encounter with a transit officer and learn that accountability is elusive.”

The IPR can only investigate a complaint about a transit officer if the officer works for the Portland Police Bureau. The IPR can refer complaints to other agencies, but most do not have independent investigators.

“The multijurisdictional makeup of the Transit Division is not well understood by the public,” the audit said.

Another issue, according to the IPR, is that transit officers on loan from various law enforcement agencies each have their own set of policies and directives, making them difficult to manage as a whole. The audit mentions, for example, that the Clackamas and Washington county sheriffs both withdrew from the transit division because of concerns that the PPB’s use-of-force directive was too strict.

The IPR issued the following recommendations for Portland police:

  1. Continue to require that all officers provide business cards at a community member’s request with information that explains where complaints and commendations can be filed with their home agencies and the Transit Division.
  2. Formalize the complaint tracking process in the Transit Division to improve accountability and communication with complainants.
  3. Incorporate data from IPR’s intake process to understand the nature of misconduct complaints against police officers, TriMet employees, and private security officers.
  4. To ensure consistent enforcement, work with TriMet to amend the intergovernmental agreement and identify which agency’s policies and directives will govern law enforcement actions on the transit system.
  5. Provide guidance for transit commanders who supervise officers from other jurisdictions to help them meet the challenges such supervision entails.

The audit notes that Portland police may no longer manage the transit division by the end of the year, but the accountability issues will still remain.

Read the full audit below.

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