PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland city leaders said they’re disappointed with an independent review into racial and political biases within the Portland Police Bureau and that investigators didn’t answer important questions.
The City Council commissioned the review in the spring of 2021, sparked in part by an incident in which a PPB officer falsely identified commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty as a suspect in a hit-and-run last March.
Mayor Ted Wheeler later fired the officer who leaked the information to the press.
The report, conducted by OIR Group — an independent police oversight and review organization — was reviewed by commissioners Thursday night.
It lists 28 recommendations for change, but stops short of answering whether Portland Police Bureau policies, culture and actions are driven by racial or political bias — a key focus of the study.
"I’m not really sure what to make of this report, we’ve paid you for it, you’ve provided it, it doesn’t meaningfully impact anything, as I’ve said there’s some recommendations I’ll continue to move forward on, but I don’t think we really addressed the core issue," Mayor Wheeler said in the meeting.
Investigators were also tasked with looking into where there's a resistance to change within the Portland Police Bureau.
In the presentation, investigator Michael Gennaco said they found some disturbing incidents of racial bias.
"The consideration that they were jokes, or to highlight an in-custody death case and suggest by mimicking t-shirts that the conduct was tolerable and okay, there was that undercurrent that was certainly identified," Gennaco said.
He added that they found that the false identification of Hardesty as allegedly involved in a hit-and-run, and the leak of that information, went beyond the actions of just one officer.
"What was striking to me in doing that investigation was that it wasn’t just one individual that leaked information it was actually five city employees that leaked information in various situations regarding the incident," he said.
Hardesty herself said she was greatly frustrated with the results of the review and concerned that city leaders had lost additional credibility waiting a year for this report.
"I am profoundly disappointed, this is not what I asked for, and it does not give us a road map moving forward," Hardesty said. "I find your report very problematic because it didn’t answer the questions and didn’t engage the community."
Gennaco said investigators were limited by the rise of the delta and omicron COVID variants, which prevented town halls and in-person community responses, but said they determined there's a clear community perception of racial and political bias within PPB.
"Portland, you have a problem, the community recognizes you have a problem, and the recommendations are intended to address the problem," Gennaco said.
However, he said his team couldn't answer whether officer policies and actions are widespread or driven by these root causes, saying there's a lack of preponderance of evidence beyond various incidents.
Wheeler said he was looking for more, particularly regarding the false claims about Hardesty.
"I had to ask myself 'how did this happen and what do we need to do to change to prevent it from ever happening again,' that was the genesis of this report, and it did not meet my expectations," Wheeler said.
City leaders didn’t vote to do anything with the study results, choosing to take the information as is and move on.
More than 80% of the police officers surveyed in the report said their actions are not influenced by racial or political biases.
However, the report also outlined how racial disparities in arrests, stops and other areas persist, showing the contradiction at the heart of the matter.
Among the 28 recommendations listed, OIR Group said PPB should increase investigations and penalties for officers associated with hate groups, train officers on community-based and programs that aren't produced by law enforcement and do more with racial disparity data.
Commissioner Carmen Rubio said many of the recommendations felt like things the city and police bureau are already doing to make improvements.