The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Nov. 10, heard the third of four briefings meant to guide budget and policy decisions in Multnomah County’s ever-changing public safety landscape and, ultimately, improve disparate justice outcomes for communities of color.
The latest briefing — which focused on the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office’s (MCSO) use of force policy — follows unanimous approval of budget revisions in June that seek to re-envision public safety and shift funds away from the punitive portions of the traditional criminal justice system, while reinvesting in upstream prevention, diversion and reentry programs focused on the Black and other communities of color.
This year’s package of budget notes and allocations included requests by the Board to analyze existing public safety programs’ outcomes and data. The Board said it wanted to study practices such as law enforcement training, use of force, electronic monitoring and jail labor. A final budget hearing on jail labor is slated for Tuesday, Nov. 24.
“I want to thank Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson for bringing this [use of force briefing] forward,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “It’s really important for us and the public to understand what is occurring in our public safety system.”
MCSO’s use of force policy is currently under open review: a time frame when members of the community can provide input on the policy. The process occurs every two years.
“Our vision is for a safe and thriving community,” said Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, who introduced Tuesday’s briefing.
“And it can’t be realized without community trust and partnership. When we talk about how police officers and corrections deputies use force it’s important to recognize our values — especially today as we acknowledge a history of systemic racism and disparities in our criminal justice system, and continue to examine them in order to do better.”
Sheriff’s officials shared data, explained their systems of accountability and talked through the legal foundations for the office’s use of force policy.
Nationally, Graham v. Conner, a 1980s Supreme Court case, guides all use of force for public safety agencies, said Paul Meyer, a newly hired use of force inspector at the Sheriff’s Office.
Graham v. Conner says officers are allowed to use objectively reasonable levels of force under the totality of the circumstances of any particular incident. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also provides direction on force and how it’s used, Meyer said.
According to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, decisions on whether an officer’s use of force is appropriate or objectively reasonable should be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer with similar training and experience. The Court has also held that judgment of an officer’s actions should consider only the facts known to the officer at the time, without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, with the officer making split-second decisions in a tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving situation.
“In simple terms, we are responsible for guiding the deputy with what options would be appropriate to use to persuade, affect and/or influence a person who is resisting to comply with the deputy,” said Meyer. “Authorized force always depends on the type and level of resistance from the subject, and we ensure that we are aligned with jurisdictional standards and best practices.”
Crisis intervention and de-escalation training, including using communication skills to intervene in a person's behavior and reduce tension and prevent further escalation, are both critical to training.
Tactics or techniques such as verbal warnings, waiting or disengaging from an incident, or calling in trained personnel such as negotiators, “when time and circumstances reasonably permit, are intended to stabilize a scene by reducing the potential for violence,” Meyer said.
Officials said uses of force and the supervisory reviews that follow each use fall into two categories: minor events and general events, which are higher level.
Minor events can include initial physical contact in an effort to de-escalate or place someone in custody, such as holding someone against a surface while waiting for them to de-escalate or putting hands on someone while escorting someone who resists going into a cell or police vehicle.
General events are higher level and include actions such as more intense physical contact when someone is resisting, use of aerosol restraints like pepper spray, use of stun guns or the use of deadly physical force.
“We ask deputies to document all uses of force, from minor to general,” Meyer said. “Any time they point a firearm, Taser or less-lethal option at a subject, we capture all relevant use of force data.”
The Corrections Division, which manages detention, rehabilitation and transition services for adults in custody, has consistently averaged a little more than 32,000 bookings for the past several years, Reese said. From 2015 to 2018, the Corrections Division recorded yearly averages of:
1,119 people in the daily jail population; and
357 use-of-force incidents over 12 months.
“I want to highlight this as exceptional work by our corrections deputies and a very low reliance on physical force,” said Reese.
“Corrections deputies work in this environment 24 hours per day, seven days a week, providing direct supervision over adults in custody,” Reese said, noting that adds up to “roughly over 400,000 opportunities to interact with folks in our jail system.”
The Enforcement Division, which includes patrols of Gresham, Troutdale and Fairview, posted these annual averages from 2015 to 2018:
58,804 calls for service
106 use-of-force incidents
Force incidents by the Enforcement Division grew from 2015 to 2017 because the Division itself grew, after merging with police agencies in Troutdale and Fairview, said Reese. Since the merger, he said, use-of-force incidents have held at roughly 125 per year.
“With nearly 60,000 calls for service that deputies respond to in the community, which includes unpredictable circumstances and the potential for risk, I’m proud of the work our deputy sheriffs do each day keeping our community safe,” Reese said.
In 2019, the Sheriff’s Office updated its use of force policy to include new training, and additional requirements around de-escalation, report writing and data collection.
“We created a strong policy about reporting expectations," said Reese. “We define force to capture all incidents where sworn members put hands on somebody from minor to general applications. We believe these factors combined reflect our use of force more accurately — reflecting all types of use-of-force incidents in a single incident. This allows us to individually account for multiple incidents.”
In 2019, based on an average of just over 32,000 bookings per year, Reese said, “Only 2 percent of those bookings resulted in any use of force. Ninety-eight percent of the time, corrections deputies are assisting individuals through daily processes and supporting them, sometimes in crisis, without any use of force at all.”
The Corrections Division’s jail population demographics have been relatively steady over the years, said Reese. Currently,:
56 percent of the jail population is white.
28 percent of the jail population is Black.
11 percent of the jail population is Latinx.
5 percent of the jail population is identified as other races.
According to Reese, one out of every 64 bookings involving a white person resulted in a force incident. One out of every 62 bookings involving a Black person resulted in a force incident, and one out of every 73 bookings involving a Latinx person resulted in a force incident.
The Enforcement Division averaged over 65,000 calls for service and 3,700 arrests in 2019, said Reese. Of these arrests, we see a very low incident of use of force, with the majority being minor events. And 95-percent of the time deputy sheriff’s are talking people through the custody process without any use of force.
Enforcement Division demographics:
1 out of 18 arrests where force was used involved a Caucasian person.
1 out of every 16 arrests where force was used involved a Black person.
1 out of every 17 arrests where force was used involved a Latinx person.
“We expect deputies to use the lowest level alternatives before any force is used, such as attempts to de-escalate,” said Reese. “We capture this data in reports, as we require deputies to document these actions.”
The presentation also detailed the most common uses of force as well as the deployment of tasers and pointing a firearm. Click here to view the full presentation.
There were two incidents in 2018 in which deputy sheriffs were involved in an officer-involved shooting, said Reese. In custody situations, corrections deputies do not carry firearms.
Accountability occurs, in part, through the MCSO Professional Standards Unit, which conducts internal investigations, data collection and analysis to monitor performance.
The Sheriff’s Office also created a new specialized force inspector position, who works solely as a subject matter expert regarding use of force by members.
“Public safety, in the governing of force, is extremely important,” said Meyer, who serves as the new force inspector. “Please know that I am committed to doing everything I can to improve all aspects of what we do.”
Regarding the increase in use of force incidents with the mergers of the Troutdale and Fairview Police, Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson asked, “Does it seem proportional to the number of people brought in? And what was the training of officers brought on as a result of the expansion?”
Overall use of force was consistent as the organization grew, said Reese. “So did the number of arrests and the calls for service and proportional use of force. It was consistent with that growth.”
Alongside that growth was annual and in-service training, Reese said, as well as training that also focused on de-escalation and report writing.
“I think [with] the mergers, although they increased calls for service and arrests, the use of force was consistent with past years at MCSO.”