Audit: Oregon law enforcement regulators don’t adequately investigate police misconduct

Auditors suggested hiring more staff, but the department director said that was unnecessary

By: - December 6, 2021 5:30 am

Photo of a police vehicle from the backseat. (Portland Police Bureau)

The state agency in charge of regulating police officers doesn’t have the staff or resources it needs to thoroughly investigate officer conduct and defers too much to local police departments, an audit found.

The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training has the authority to investigate on its own whether police officers failed to meet state standards for moral fitness, but the report from the Audits Division of the Secretary of State’s Office found that the department relies on investigations by local law enforcements instead. 

“They do have the authority to conduct their own investigations, and it probably would be in the best interest of the state for them to conduct those, especially those that make the public view,” audit manager Andrew Love said. 

Auditors recommended that the department analyze whether it needs additional staff to investigate officers when local law enforcement agencies don’t provide enough information. 

Department director Jerry Granderson viewed that as unnecessary.

“Absent additionally (sic) regulatory authority DPSST does not find this to be an issue,” he wrote in a response letter included with the audit. “The audit showed that out of 103 cases only 3 (1 per year) did not have adequate information provided from the (local law enforcement agency) to make a determination and therefore does not merit additional resource.”

Granderson, director since March, also rejected auditors’ recommendations to consider changing the moral fitness standards officers must meet to earn or maintain certification to comply with new state laws. Right now, officers automatically lose their certificate to police if they’ve been convicted of a felony, a drug offense other than marijuana or any crime involving domestic violence or child abuse. Officers labeled sex offenders or who are fired are also barred from serving.

Department staff review other violations, such as lying, misusing authority and marijuana offenses, and can recommend whether to temporarily or permanently revoke a license or let the officer continue serving. 

The department doesn’t automatically review an officer’s certification if he uses excessive force or causes a death. That would happen only if the actions result in the officer being convicted of a crime or fired by his department. Auditors cited a Bowling Green State University professor’s research that found that officers are rarely convicted for on-duty shootings, as well as an investigative report from The Oregonian that found none of the Portland police officers who shot and killed 40 people between 2003 and 2020 were indicted by a grand jury.

This year, the Legislature formed a new commission that will create statewide standards for police officers, including barring “unjustified or excessive use of physical or deadly force.” Auditors said the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training should review its own standards to comply with those new rules once they’re adopted next year, but Granderson replied that he disagreed with the recommendation because he couldn’t comment on “future unknown regulatory impacts.” 

He wrote that the department would assess whether it needed more staff in other areas, including the police academy. 

The department regulates Oregon’s 5,600 city, county, state and tribal police officers, as well as about 35,000 more Oregonians who work as parole and probation officers, city and county correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical dispatchers, private security providers and private investigators. All newly hired police officers need to be certified by the agency and complete a four-month basic police academy program. 

When police departments hire, promote or fire officers, they’re required to let the agency know. However, auditors found multiple instances of local departments not informing the agency, including instances in which local departments promoted officers to roles that required a management certification that they hadn’t received. 

The department  has one employee who reviews police department records to ensure officers aren’t slipping through the cracks, but auditors recommended adding more staff because the agency hasn’t met its goal of reviewing every local department’s records annually. 

The department’s budget fluctuates wildly each two-year budget cycle – legislators approved $72 million this year, down from the $101 million budgeted in the 2019-21 biennium but up from the $64 million budgeted in 2017. 

This audit report is the first of several planned over the next few months looking at law enforcement and public safety. An audit into the Oregon State Police’s staffing model is expected later this month, followed by an advisory report early next year on the state’s approach to domestic terrorism and violent extremism.

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.

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