After a summer characterized by incidents of police brutality across the country and a surge in support for the ongoing fight for racial justice, Eugene’s City Council met with its Civilian Review Board (CRB) and police auditor for their annual report on Nov 16.
The CRB’s report detailed 12 cases that were reviewed each month of the year, showcasing police behavior and policy that the CRB would like to see resolved as members of the community. These cases range from officers cell phone policy on and off the job, to treatment of minors during wellness checks, and even an officer-related shooting.
The CRB meets twice a month and covers two cases per month, reviewing cases that deal with a wide variety of issues related to behavior and policy. With the restrictive nature of Oregon public records law, it makes the 11 members of the CRB the only citizens in Eugene with access to these complaints.
CRB chair Lindsey Foltz said of all the complaints covered, most have to do with the policy or service direction behind them. A policy complaint takes issue with the law or ordinance that the officer was acting on during an encounter and is not attributed to the behavior of an officer. A service complaint has to do with the behavior or handling of a situation by an officer. The issue of camping touches both of these categories, as the Eugene Police Department (EPD) responds to illegal camping, many complaints arise about the ‘criminalization of the houseless’ and the behavior that follows.
“People are very passionate about the issue of camping,” said Eugene Police Auditor Mark Gissiner.
He also noted that with complaints of service, most of them have to do with over-policing of minor offenses. These situations can turn into violent encounters and create issues for all parties involved. Many of the CRB cases covered within the last year followed this narrative.
The CRB’s report reveals no significant trend in race-related complaints, but shows a large increase in complaints in general during this past year. The number of complaints from the years 2017 to 2019 increased by 125, however only one of those complaints did not fall into the”‘minor” category. CRB member Leia Pitcher attributes part of the increase due to more publicity about the board and police auditor’s office. Many of the “minor” category complaints have to do with the policy and officer behavior related to illegal camping.
When it comes to issues the CRB can have a say in, the board focuses their attention on providing trainings and programs for new and veteran officers to develop skills and practices that avoid further complaints.
Another statistic revealed in the CRB’s presentation shows that a majority of the complaints filed against officers are during the night shift, which leads Gissiner to believe that officers working nights need proper back-up to feel safe.
Gissiner’s claims his impact on the policy of the Eugene Police Department is measurable, notably in the discontinuing of high speed chases.
“They know I don’t like it, because about a third of the people that are killed in this country every year in high speed chases are innocent people,” Gissiner says.
Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner has been open and willing to listen to the board and police Auditor, Gissiner says, and has only disagreed with audits twice in the 12-year span of Gissiner’s career in Eugene..