The rate of Eugene Police misconduct is up-- according to the newly released annual report by the Police Auditor. The Auditor attributes the increase, in part, to a new prevalence of video evidence.
Last Fall, an inmate in the Lane County Jail was beaten by a Eugene Police officer and it was caught on camera. The officer was subsequently fired. Eugene Police Auditor Mark Gissiner says that case is an example of how technology has improved his ability to do his job.
It's easier and there are more ways to report police misconduct. And that may be why the number of such cases has increased. In the five years since Gissiner became police auditor, the EPD has begun using “Blue Team,” a soft ware system that tracks use of force by officers.
Gissiner:“And when I talk about use of force I basically talk about anything that goes beyond pretty much benign hand cuffing. So, even things like take downs or control holds—things like that—we’re able to review to determine if we need to go further in the investigative process.”
Take downs or control holds are examples of when force is used to subdue a suspect.
Gissiner says in the industry of police oversight, an effective organization has a “sustained” rate of misconduct between 17 and 20 percent. Last year, Eugene’s sustained rate was around 29 percent for individual allegations. Gissiner says he’d be critical of any agency that claimed a rate of less than 8.
Gissiner: “There are a lot of variables involved. You could have a higher sustained rate just over one incident. Four or five officers are involved for example or three officers are involved in closing down a homeless camp without going through the proper notifications for trespassing. That could kind of skew our numbers.”
Gissiner says the intent of the annual report is to be transparent with the community. He says the volume of complaints has increased in part because his office is accessible to all—whether they have credible complaints or not.
Gissiner:“We got a complaint about a week before 4th of July about fireworks. No event had occurred yet but the guy wanted to complain anyway about future events.”
Gissiner says in his five years as Police Auditor, he’s seen certain police activities decrease--like officers entering homes without permission or unnecessary pursuits. He says the EPD’s primary focuses for reform remain use of force and profiling.
Gissiner: “They arrest 13,000 people a year, they give traffic citations another 13,000 times, they probably issue about 7,000 or 8,000 warnings. And God knows how many stops they make on traffic stops. So trying to quantify that, it’s a dilemma for us.”