Portlanders are split about the Portland Police Bureau. When it comes to fighting crime, the view is largely positive, with nearly 90 percent of residents saying they would work with police to solve crimes in their neighborhoods. But many fault the police when it comes to values, management, respect for community relationships, racial profiling, and responding to mental health issues.
Those are among the result of a new survey released by Mayor Ted Wheeler's Office on Wednesday, May 29. It was conducted by DHM Research as a requirement of the city's settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over complaints of police excessive force against the mentally ill.
Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said the bureau is working hard to address the concerns expressed in the survey and to inform Portlanders of the progress being made.
"Managing public perceptions related to the work we do and how we do it is one of our biggest challenges. The DOJ has found us in substantial compliance in all areas related to our response to those in mental health crisis as a result of the diligent work we have been doing," Outlaw said in a response.
Outlaw cited two recent examples of how the police are helping those in crisis.
"Officers recently spent five hours working to get a person in crisis to come down from a construction crane with a successful outcome. In another incident this week, officers pulled a subject back in through a window as the subject was attempting suicide. These are only two examples of many with similar outcomes due to the work of compassionate PPB officers. We are encouraged to hear that those who directly interact with us believe they were treated fairly and we will continue to strive for excellence," Outlaw said.
The results are similar to similar surveys conducted in the past, including:
• Residents view the police bureau most positively when it comes to activities directly related to fighting crime. Close to half, 48%, said the bureau had done a good or very good job fighting crime. Over eight in ten would call the police to report a crime they saw happening in the neighborhood (87%) or would work with the police to identify a person who committed a crime in their neighborhood (86%).
• Of those who had contact with the police, the majority report they were treated fairly. Of the one in three residents who had contacted the police to report a crime or ask for help, the majority (88%) said they were treated fairly and were satisfied with the experience (86%). Of the one in ten residents who had been contacted by a police officer — including warnings, traffic stops, citations, or arrests — 78% said they were treated fairly.
• Residents perceived Portland police less positively when asked to evaluate the bureau's values, management, respect for all, community relationships, and use of racial profiling. Negative opinions outweighed positive opinions when it came to whether the police treat individuals disrespectfully because of race or ethnicity, how the police treat those with mental health issues, racial profiling, and strength of community relationships.
• Residents rated the bureau's performance lowest on responding to mental health issues in the community. Four in ten rated the bureau as poor or very poor when it comes to responding to mental health issues (42%). This is a drop of 14 points from 2016, when 28% rated the bureau poorly. A majority of those with a personal history of mental health issues or a family member with mental health issues evaluated the bureau poorly (56%).
• More than four in ten residents indicated that they thought the police used more force than necessary when dealing with racial or ethnic populations (47%) or people experiencing a mental health crisis (47%). Fewer thought police used more force than necessary when dealing with other groups,
• Responses throughout the survey echo a consistent theme: members of marginalized communities have more negative views about the police and have less positive interactions with police officers. A majority of Native American respondents (85%), African American respondents (74%), Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander respondents (55%), and those who identify as Hispanic/Latino (55%) are concerned that the police may stereotype them based on their race or ethnicity. Those who have a history of mental illness and those who have a physical health condition also
expressed heightened concern about potential stereotyping. Around one in four of those with a mental health condition (26%) and those with a physical disability (27%) agreed that they were worried about being stereotyped by the police.
• There was also a heightened concern about use of force among several of these same communities. A majority of Native American respondents (87%), African American respondents (70%), and those who identify as Hispanic/Latino (63%) agreed that Portland police use more physical force than necessary when dealing with racial or ethnic populations. In addition, 61% of those who had a history of mental health issues themselves or had a family member with mental health issues thought Portland police use more physical force than necessary when dealing with people experiencing a mental health crisis.
• By and large, residents are unsure whether the bureau is taking steps to improve services. Residents did not know whether the bureau had undertaken specific activities to improve services. Only a minority were most aware hte bureau was training officers to help people who are having a mental health crisis (37%) or training officers to work with people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds (36%).
• Skepticism was highest when it comes to investigations of and accountability for officers. Residents were more likely to think the bureau had not taken steps to improve in these areas than to believe the bureau had.
In its response, the bureau also said that officers use force rarely, that there is a very small difference when force is used between racial groups, and that officers are being trained to respond to those experiencing a mental health crisis.
"We are a learning organization and are constantly striving to improve," the bureau said.
DHM Research administered the survey on behalf of the City of Portland, Compliance Officer and Community Liaison, and the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing. The survey was conducted by mail to 6,500 households. A total of 1,380 valid surveys were returned. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.6%.
You can read the survey here.
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