The Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training wins national praise for holding police officers accountable for bad behavior. Academics, journalists and regulators in other states describe the department as a model. However, an investigation by The Oregonian/OregonLive found that state regulators took no action to sideline dozens of officers fired for chronically inept police work. Or worse. The department let fired officers remain eligible to work even after they accumulated records of brutality, recklessness, shoddy investigations and anger management problems. Regulators closed one case after an officer was fired for using excessive force on two handcuffed suspects and for driving 120 mph, at night, through a construction zone. They closed the case of another fired officer whose disciplinary records show he botched investigations, refused to finish police reports, failed to show up at court proceedings, abused sick time and earned a reputation for being volatile and rude.
Regulators have chosen to shy away from some of the public’s greatest concerns about policing. They don’t think it’s their job to punish officers for brutality, to punish officers for incompetence,or even to contemplate punishing officers who haven’t been convicted of a crime or who haven’t lost their jobs. The department employs only two investigators for the more than 10,000 police officers, corrections officers, dispatchers and parole and probation officers in the state. The investigators rely on documents that employers send them and almost never follow up once those documents arrive. Some police departments do a better job of investigating their own than others. As a result, officers are not held to the same standard across the state. The Oregonian/OregonLive wanted to know how the state’s reputation as a national leader compared to reality. Reporters analyzed three databases and more than 10,000 pages of documents from the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.