Washington County Sheriff's Office hires firm to review use of force
Possibly the most consequential action law enforcement can take is to use force.
On Nov. 17, the Washington County Sheriff's Office announced it will partner with a national policing training and research firm to review its use of force policies, practices and data.
The partnership comes at a time of elevated public scrutiny of law enforcement's use of force, particularly lethal force, against people of color.
After May's police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests against police brutality erupted in Washington County, Portland and across the country. Protests in many places is ongoing.
The Sheriff's Office's nearly $150,000 contract for the job went to Polis Solutions Inc.
In its announcement of the contract, the Sheriff's Office said Polis' review will ensure "policies, procedures, standards, training, evaluation and accountability related to the use of force align with best practices."
Over six months, Polis will interview Sheriff's Office officials and "a diverse range of community members," the Sheriff's Office said. Representatives from the firm also will visit Sheriff's Office facilities, review policies and procedures, and analyze use of force data.
In April 2021, Polis "will present a final report with their findings and recommendations and will work with the Sheriff's Office to develop an implementation plan. The report will be made available to the public," officials said.
The Sheriff's Office reviewed proposals from four other firms before selecting Polis.
Review team members ranked the proposals by certain criteria, including having set benchmarks, steps and a timeline to complete the review, working collaboratively with the public and other stakeholders, looking to find strengths and weaknesses in use of force processes, thoroughness of engagement to produce a final report, most well-rounded experience in team members, and best capturing contract requirements overall.
Polis declined to be interviewed about specific details of the partnership, shifting an inquiry to the Sheriff's Office.
"Our decision to invite nationally recognized experts to review our use of force training and policy supports our vision of enhancing public safety by fostering a culture of professionalism, compassion and trust within our Sheriff's Office team and the communities we serve," said Sheriff Pat Garrett in a statement announcing the contract. "This project aligns with our community's interest regarding police use of force, and our commitment to being a learning organization focused on continuous improvement."
According to its website, Polis has partnered with national agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance and the National Institute of Justice. The firm also has worked with law enforcement agencies in population centers around the country. Last year, Polis worked with police departments in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Memphis, Tennessee — both cities with populations larger than 550,000. Washington County has a population of about 600,000.
In a statement, the Sheriff's Office said Polis' experience gaining input from the public and other stakeholders set it apart from the other firms that submitted proposals.
"They have demonstrated engagement with community members to improve public trust and safety — robust knowledge of legal parameters and social expectations for reform," officials said. "Additionally, the diversity among the Polis team stood out; five of the seven identify as a person of color. Their national experience, diverse backgrounds and skill sets poise them to be the best fit for working with one of the state's most diverse counties."
The firm uses U.S. Census data and input from Sheriff's Office leadership to ensure that the project interviews reflect Washington County's diversity, the Sheriff's Office said.
Asked if such work could be done internally instead of contracting with an outside firm, officials said contracting with an outside firm is considered a best practice in the profession, adding that the funding provided was within the Sheriff's Office's current budget.
"While there's no specific event or milestone that prompted our partnership with Polis Solutions, the public's interest in police use of force is greater today than in the past 50 years," the Sheriff's Office said.
The office has faced criticism recently after an investigation into a 2018 use of force incident involving a deputy working at the Washington County Jail was reopened earlier this year.
Rian Alden, the deputy, had been placed on administrative leave after a 2003 email allegedly written by Alden surfaced on social media in which he described himself as a racist and used anti-Mexican slurs.
Shortly thereafter, an investigation was reopened into an incident in which Alden shoved a man, Albert Molina, into a wall during a jail booking, knocking him unconscious and leaving him with what Molina's attorney later described as permanent injuries to his brain. Molina, a Latino man, had been arrested for riding his bicycle while drunk.
Alden currently is facing two counts of second-degree assault, as well as unlawful use of a weapon and first-degree official misconduct following the investigation.
Days before indictments by a Washington County grand jury were announced, the Washington County Board of Commissioners settled a civil lawsuit filed by Molina for $625,000, and commissioners condemned Alden's actions.
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