The Eugene Police Auditor’s office received 400 complaints last year — the most the office has received since it opened. Police Auditor Mark Gissiner attributes the rise partially to low capacity at Lane County Jail and the District Attorney’s office no longer pursuing certain cases, including drug charges.
“So some people feel because it’s not pursued, there’s no evidence and therefore they have a point that the officer did not have probable cause,” Gissiner says.
He says if a person is arrested on a drug charge, police will confiscate the substance they believe to be drugs and send it to a lab to be identified, but sometimes the DA will not pursue charges even if lab results prove the substances are illegal. He says some people think that “if the DA drops their charges that must mean I didn’t have drugs on me or something was wrong with what the officer did and, in fact, it’s a breakdown in the system.”
The DA’s office published a list of 100 misdemeanor crimes in 2004 they would no longer investigate or prosecute, due to lack of funding. Since then the list has grown, Lane County DA Alex Gardner says.
“Today we no-file approximately 25 percent of the viable (strong) felony case volume,” Gardner writes. “That’s a slight improvement over where we were a few months ago.”
He explains that the DA’s office generally prioritizes cases starting with violent crimes, an approach based on level of harm to the victim. After violent crimes, the office prosecutes property crimes, usually based on the dollar amount of damage. Crimes involving victims are a higher priority than most drug charges.
“Most of the felony cases we no-file are drug offenses,” Gardner says, “but many significant property felonies have to be rejected too.”
Gissiner says jail capacity issues are a factor because people charged with crimes who get taken to jail are released before their trial and the charges are dropped if they’re not indicted or charged within a certain time frame following their release.
Eugene also has a high per-capita ratio for arrests and citations, Gissiner says. In 2012, Portland Police Department made 20,407 arrests and EPD made 15,614.
“Our police are active in the arrests arena,” Gissiner says. “So it’s going to generate a certain amount of complaints.”
Gissiner says in 2013 the auditor’s office also saw more internal reports — either officers self-reporting or complaints otherwise coming from inside the police department. In one instance, officer reported that another officer used a racial slur and the officer who made the derogatory remark lost his job as a result.
According to Gissiner, officer accountability has increased and will continue to do so. He attributes this in part to the “Blue Team” computer program EPD started using approximately a year and a half ago. Supervisors now must enter uses of force in the program, rather than officers self-reporting.
“I think having the supervisor there at the scene and interviewing witnesses right away and taking pictures right away has significantly improved the efficiency of immediate first-line supervisor reviews of uses of force,” Gissiner says.
EPD Internal Affairs Lt. Nate Reynolds says supervisors can document internal and external complaints in Blue Team and the auditor’s office has access to complaints inputted in the program.