Corvallis Police by the Numbers: Complaints, Gender, Race

  The city budget authorizes the Corvallis Police Department for 112.25 total positions, including 75 sworn staff as well as records, dispatch, evidence, parking enforcement, community service officers, and administrative staff. There are 31 patrol officers on the road, officers in training, supervisors, managers, detectives, community livability officers, and traffic officers.  

 This year’s proposed budget is $20,696,200.  

So, how are our police doing in the public’s eye, and does the department’s staffing reflect the community? How does our police department compare with neighboring jurisdictions? We’ll also take a look at our Sheriff’s Department.  

Complaint Data   

CPD publishes annual complaint and commendation reports that are available to the public on the City of Corvallis website. It is important to note that the data is for all CPD staff, not just sworn officers, but also parking enforcement, records, dispatch, etc.   

In 2017, a total of four CPD internal affairs investigations were conducted regarding one external complaint and three internal complaints. One complaint was determined to be unfounded, two complaints were sustained, and one complaint subject was exonerated. There were zero complaints recorded for use of force or racial profiling.   

The two sustained complaints were categorized respectively as service/policy related and criminal wrongdoing/serious non-criminal misconduct. The department also issued 93 commendations that year for a range of professional qualities and actions.  

In 2018, CPD conducted nine internal affairs investigations into eight external and one internal complaint. Four complaints were ruled as unfounded, including one related to force and one related to racial profiling. Two complaints were unsubstantiated, two were sustained, and one subject was exonerated regarding a racial profiling complaint. The sustained complaints were both related to conduct/policy/services. The department issued 88 commendations for the year.  

In 2019, records show eight internal affairs investigations, half from internal complaints and half from external. There were five sustained complaints, four in the conduct/policy/services category and one for criminal wrongdoing/serious non-criminal misconduct. There were no force complaints, and one racial profiling complaint was determined to be unfounded. CPD issued 83 commendations in 2019.   

So far this year, one complaint has been received and is currently under investigation. Sassaman said every sustained complaint has resulted in corrective action for the involved employee. He did not respond to an inquiry regarding how many, if any, officers have been terminated for sustained misconduct complaints in the past five years.  

To look deeper into the sustained misconduct complaints against CPD staff in recent years, The Advocate filed a public records request for documents related to the cases mentioned above. Law enforcement agencies asked for such information typically respond that personnel-related records are considered exempt from release unless the disclosure is in the public interest, which they tend to contest.   

CPD denied the records requests, citing guidance from the Corvallis city attorney, who pointed to two Oregon Revised Statutes for withholding the documents. One states a public body may not disclose information about a personnel investigation of a public safety employee if the investigation does not result in discipline, and the other states that a personnel action or materials or documents supporting that action are exempt from disclosure, essentially blocking any personnel records from release.   

“There is no clear public interest established that would override these statutes,” said CPD Lt. Joel Goodwin. “CPD voluntarily publishes statistics related to commendations and complaints on our website to contribute to the public’s understanding of accountability.”  

The most recent CPD officer-involved fatal shooting took place in 2005, when Officer Brett Roach fired four shots at Richard Townsend, who died from a bullet to the heart. The shooting was ruled justified because Townsend was attacking Roach with a metal rod after a stun gun failed to stop Townsend, who was intoxicated and struggling with mental illness, according to police reports.   

Though several officers have been forced to medically retire due to injuries sustained on duty, CPD has been fortunate to not have lost any officers in the line of duty in recent decades.   

Comparing Departments  

BCSO provided internal affairs complaint statistics upon request. Records showed nine misconduct allegations in 2017, followed by 13 in 2018, and five in 2019. 

In 2017, three violations of pursuit policy were sustained as well as a complaint of unbecoming conduct. The subjects of three unbecoming conduct complaints were exonerated, as were those in two unbecoming conduct complaints. There was no use of force complaints, and the subject of one bias-based complaint was exonerated.  

In 2018, two truthfulness complaints, an unbecoming conduct and a dereliction of duty complaint were sustained. An unbecoming conduct complaint was ruled unfounded, and the subjects of seven excessive force complaints were exonerated. There were no bias-based complaints reported that year.  

In 2019, two unbecoming complaints were sustained as was a K9 documentation violation. An unbecoming conduct complaint was ruled unfounded, and the subject of a use of force complaint was exonerated. 

From 2017 through 2019, discipline for BCSO staff misconduct included two reprimands, two counselings, one termination that was overturned by arbitration, a suspension without pay, and one specialty assignment was ended.  

Researching the annual reports from the police departments of Eugene (pop. 172,000+) and Albany (pop. 55,000+) provides a degree of contrast to the statistics above. The Portland Research Center recently estimated that more than 58,000 people call Corvallis home.  

Eugene Police Department (EPD) only listed 2018 internal affairs information on its website. Other years are available by request. That year, EPD investigated 24 misconduct complaints. Just six of the complaints were externally generated. Corrective action from counseling to demotion was taken in 15 of the complaints that were sustained. Four complaints were determined to be within policy, two were unfounded, two were dismissed, and one was not adjudicated due to resignation.  

Documents from the police auditor’s office on the City of Eugene website show 28 allegations of misconduct and four allegations of criminal conduct in 2019. Of the four criminal conduct complaints, one was still pending, one was administratively closed, one was unfounded, and one was out of jurisdiction. Four misconduct allegations were dismissed and one employee was terminated prior to investigation. 15 of 28 misconduct investigations resulted in a sustained allegation.  

Albany Police Department (APD) in 2018 conducted three internal affairs investigations: one conduct/attitude complaints, one conduct/services/policy, and one criminal wrongdoing/serious non-criminal conduct. Two complaints were internal, one external. The conduct/attitude complaint was not sustained, while the other two complaints were sustained.   

In 2019, APD reported four internal affairs investigations. Three complaints related to conduct/services/policy and one was conduct/attitude driven. Two of the complaints were sustained, one in each category, and two complaints were administratively closed due to retirements during the investigations. Additionally, 11 civilian complaints yielded one sustained misconduct ruling. No information was provided regarding corrective actions for either year.  

Race and Gender  

Oregon began as a whites-only state with numerous black exclusionary laws that were written to keep African Americans out. The legacy of institutional racism shaped the state’s population; 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates nearly 87 percent of the population is white (75 percent white alone, not Hispanic). Oregon’s black population is around two percent.  

CPD is composed of 65-percent male and 35-percent female staff. For a department its size, CPD has significantly more female officers than national averages. Overall, CPD staff are an estimated 88 percent Caucasian, 5 percent African American, 4 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 3 percent Hispanic, and around 1 percent “other.” Currently, 71 percent of officers hold at least a bachelor’s degree.  

By comparison, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), which has 108 employees, is around 71 percent male and 29 percent female. BCSO staff is around 91 percent Caucasian, 3 percent Hispanic, 2 percent multiracial, 1 percent Asian, 1 percent Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and 2 percent not reported. No statistics were available regarding education among BCSO staff. A high school diploma or equivalent is required for hiring, the state’s minimum standard of education.   

Information Access to Improve  

Among recent reforms, the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) is rolling out an online database of professional standards actions, as required by House Bill 4207, which passed during the 2020 special legislative session. DPSST is the state agency that certifies members of public safety occupations such as law enforcement and fire service.  

The database will include the names of all public safety officers who have been the subject of a DPSST certification action, their employing agency, and a link to the investigation and outcome once issued, including a description of the facts underlying the denial, suspension or revocation of certification. There is also a list of pending professional standards cases on the website.   

DPSST Director Eriks Gabliks called the database the latest step in ongoing efforts to strengthen trust between law enforcement and the community. Gabliks said Floyd’s tragic death at the hands of Minneapolis police was inexcusable, and has led to many questions in Oregon regarding training and accountability for law enforcement.  

Would you like to share an experience you had with law enforcement in Corvallis? Email your comments to editor@corvallisadvocate.com.  

By Cody Mann