Microsoft Office 365.
That’s what the Portland Police Bureau says it needs immediately to help meet U.S. Justice Department requirements on reporting and reviewing when officers use force.
As the only bureau in the city without the Microsoft subscription software, Portland police have relied solely on staff email to track use-of-force reports and supervisors’ reviews of those reports.
“It’s just a terribly inefficient system,” said Mary Claire Buckley, the civilian head of the Police Bureau’s Office of Inspector General. “When you have a million of these things coming in, you lose track of them.”
Officers are supposed to fill out reports by the end of their shifts nothing every time they use force and why. Their supervisors are supposed to then evaluate each use of force in so-called after-action reviews.
Federal lawyers and the city-hired compliance officer overseeing the mandated police reforms have repeatedly blasted the bureau for delays in filing the reports on time and for their lack of critical review.
The reports are crucial to seeing how Portland police are following terms of the city’s 2014 settlement with the Justice Department to make changes after federal investigators found officers used excessive force against people with mental illness. The bureau also faces more than a dozen lawsuits and more than 100 complaints over using tear gas, pepper spray and munitions during social justice protests last year.
The bureau wants Microsoft’s OneDrive program so the force and after-action reports can be electronically shared with automatic date and time stamps and multiple officers can view and revise a document simultaneously.
Right now, the bureau is using a 2016 version of Microsoft, an assistant chief said.
“Hey, it’s the 21st century,” Buckley said.
With summer around the corner and a potential for more mass protests, “Now, it’s even more important,” she said. “Now I need it as soon as possible.”
Buckley’s office reviews and analyzes the reports. The estimated cost would be $465,000 over five years, she said.
The Police Bureau, however, hasn’t asked for the money in recent years. It also didn’t request money for the technology in its proposed budget for the next fiscal year beginning in July, considering the City Council cut more than $15 million out of its current budget, Buckley said.
But police supervisors are now asking the City Council for at least some money for the Microsoft update.
Justice Department lawyers on April 2 issued a formal notice of non-compliance to the city on the settlement. They cited inappropriate police use and management of force during the protests, inadequate training, subpar police oversight and a failure to adequately share an annual Police Bureau report on its operations with the public as required.
The formal notice came after the Justice Department had asked police to produce a plan on how they will properly report, analyze and investigate use of force by officers, but the city argued that such a correction plan wasn’t required under the settlement.
The settlement called for widespread changes to Portland police force and Taser policies, training, supervision and oversight, a restructuring of police crisis intervention services and quicker investigations into alleged police misconduct.
The city has until May 2 to respond in writing to how it will meet the settlement requirements.
From May 29 through Nov. 15 during the height of the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Portland police used force more than 6,000 times, according to the Justice Department.
Dennis Rosenbaum, the Chicago-based professor hired by the city to oversee its compliance with the settlement, said updated Microsoft software “will help PPB track force reporting, but that alone will not solve the larger problem of managing the use of force in demonstrations or accountability for the mistakes in the use of force by PPB members.”
Portland police didn’t join other city bureaus in migrating in 2014 to Office 365 because its cloud-based storage wasn’t secure enough under FBI guidelines for managing crime information, said Assistant Chief Mike Frome.
Now, Frome said, there are ways to restrict access on Microsoft OneDrive documents that would work for police, he said.
“Last summer demonstrated several weaknesses in our tracking process for after-actions and we need to take steps to remedy things,” Frome said.
Switching to Office 365 and its OneDrive shared documents will have some initial costs and a slightly higher annual cost than what the bureau pays now to maintain its Microsoft products, Frome said.
But he said, “I believe the pros outweigh the costs, even in these fiscally tough times.”
Officers and supervisors currently file the force reports manually and share them through email and email attachments, according to Frome and Buckley.
That’s presented myriad problems, they said.
An after-action report sometimes must be reviewed by three levels of police command depending on the unit or officer involved. The three-step review, for example, is required for force reports involving officers with the bureau’s crowd control Rapid Response Team. At each step, the supervisor can send the report back to a lower-ranked supervisor or the officer to make revisions.
Each reviewer manually enters a date and timestamp for any changes and then forwards the report to the next level of review, according to the analysts. Some of the dates are incorrectly entered or missing altogether, Buckley said.
And if a reviewer is on vacation, reassigned or no longer works at the bureau, the reviews may get delayed or lost in their email, she said.
Reviewers also sometimes lose track of the revisions leading to misplaced reports, she said.
Microsoft 365 would allow automatic dates and times, electronic tracking and automatic notifications of due dates, Buckley said.
Frome said the Police Bureau anticipates asking for money “to help offset initial startup costs,” unless the figure can be absorbed in the bureau’s budget.
He said he didn’t yet have the exact figures the bureau would seek.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who serves as police commissioner, declined comment on the bureau’s push for a Microsoft update, saying it’s a matter in active litigation, according to his spokesman Jim Middaugh. He said the litigation is the federal settlement and the notice of non-compliance.
Commissioner Mingus Mapps said he’d support bringing the Police Bureau’s software in line with every other bureau in the city.
“We need to be able to work as one City,” he said by email. “I’m certainly supportive of moving the current use-of-force tracking system to a more modern process.”
But Mapps said he can’t comment on whether the council should provide more money for the project without more details from the Police Bureau regarding its internal services budget, as well as how many other technology projects the city has planned.
— Maxine Bernstein
Email [email protected]; 503-221-8212
Follow on Twitter @maxoregonian