People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Community Board, Compliance Officer Ask for Separation
Overseeing Police Reform
In early July, nine members of the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB) composed a letter asking that they be allowed to pick a chairperson from among their own ranks. Apparently in response, Compliance Officer/ Community Liaison (COCL) Dennis Rosenbaum of Chicago filed a formal petition with the City, asking them to change the terms of Portland's Settlement Agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) which requires the COCL to chair the Board's meetings. A series of resignations left the board with just eight members by mid-July, the bare minimum for a quorum. Three meetings were interrupted by frustrated community members, who were escorted out (at two meetings) or arrested (at the third). The May 26, June 23 and August 11 meetings were cancelled, and the July 14 meeting was held in City Council Chambers--a last minute venue change after the COCL proposed having the Board meet in one room with community participating via remote video. On July 28, the Board did not have a quorum, but had time to discuss ways to improve operations. Meanwhile, the COCL generated a new "Outcomes Report" showing the Bureau appears to still be using too much force against people in mental health crisis, which is why the DOJ brought the City to court in the first place.
The mutual so-called "divorce papers," came shortly after Kathleen Saadat, hired by the Chicago team to administer and chair the COAB, resigned on June 24. At the July 14 meeting, Dr. Rosenbaum's business partner Dr. Amy Watson turned over duties of chairing the meeting to a professional facilitator. For the first time since April, the meeting proceeded with no major interruptions. The Board voted 9-1 to ask they be allowed to select their own chair, and passed a recommendation for the City to get rid of the COCL and have the DOJ and Judge Michael Simon enlist a Court-Appointed Monitor. That motion nearly failed, but after member Tom Steenson clarified he intended the Community Board to have a role under the Monitor model, the vote was 8- 0 (with two abstentions).
It's still not clear how far the COAB's recommendations will go, since the Bureau and DOJ have only responded to a few of the 50+ policy suggestions made since the COAB first met in February 2015. At their April 28 meeting, they unanimously (12-0) passed their second resolution asking the City to remove the "48-hour rule" from the Portland Police Association (PPA) contract. While the Mayor said he was unable to open up bargaining before the contract expires in June 2017, it turned out he was secretly negotiating with the PPA (article).
April 28 was also the first time Saadat moved to exclude a member of the public from a meeting. Citing an arbitrary rule she'd made up relegating anyone video-recording into a small taped off area to the side of the room, Saadat ordered videographer Kif Davis to stop taping, shutting down the meeting and having him escorted out by police. While the COAB asked to discuss and vote on their ground rules (something that worked for the Citizen Review Committee-- article here), there has been no such discussion to date. However, the video restrictions were lifted for the July 14 meeting, which may have helped de-escalate the tensions.
At the May 12 meeting, the Board planned to discuss the COCL's semi-annual (formerly quarterly) Compliance Assessment report and, for the first time in eight months, get reports from its subcommittees. Two community members interrupted the proceedings and Saadat shut the meeting down rather than find a way to ease tensions and move forward.
COAB then held a closed-door meeting on May 26 which, like their retreat (PPR #68), was highly questionable under public meetings law. The City Attorney was on hand, supposedly to keep members talking only about feelings and not COAB business.
By this time, Se-Ah-Dom Edmo, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) appointee, had resigned her seat. Despite the Settlement Agreement's terms, the HRC refused to pick a replacement, announcing in May they were on hiatus (article). On June 1, Dr. Alisha Moreland Capuia, selected by Mayor Hales, resigned after being appointed to the Portland Development Commission. Soon, Dr. Sharon Meieran, appointed by Commissioner Steve Novick, resigned to run for County Commissioner this fall. Community appointee Ime Kerlee also resigned. When the COAB's Executive Committee met on June 18, they announced the resignation of former Committee chair Bud Feuless, prompting debate with community attendees about Feuless' legacy, and an early end to that meeting. After the July 14 meeting, former State Senator Avel Gordly and Rabbi Michael Cahana both resigned, citing personal reasons. This left the COAB with just 8 of its required 15 members. Though the City has the power to appoint 4 of the 7 vacant seats, and the HRC can appoint one (with Feuless' seat to be filled by the HRC with the Portland Commission on Disabilities), it's not clear anyone is making moves to keep the Board going. Rosenbaum and Watson suspended efforts to replace Saadat since they do not want to manage the COAB any more.
The Bureau took several months to fill Officer Paul Meyer's advisory seat at COAB, appointing Officer Karl Klundt, who admitted telling a civilian handcuffs are "not meant to be comfortable" in 2013 (PPR #64).
At the June 9 meeting, City Attorney Ellen Osoinach addressed the Board about setting priorities. Before her part of the meeting ended, several community members interrupted again, leading the City players to call in police to arrest Davis (who went over time giving public testimony) and live- streamer Laura Vanderlyn. The advisory police officers to the Board sat silently. The on-duty cops were generally non-violent, but the use of police to arrest people is itself a violent act. Saadat eventually shut down the June 9 meeting 60 minutes early, even though one of the two hours that elapsed was due to pausing business to deal with interruptions.
Earlier that evening, Rosenbaum responded to feedback on the Compliance report. He told the Board he would not change what they called too-favorable ratings he gave the Bureau, saying they were not specific about why they disagreed. The Agreement's paragraph 152 requires the COAB to meet twice a year with the Mayor and Chief; such a meeting was supposed to take place on May 26, but between the COAB's private meeting and the Chief being on leave, it did not occur. There has not been any such meeting for the COAB's 18 month existence. On June 15, the COCL did change the rating on 152 to "non-compliance with steps taken" rather than "partial compliance."
The COCL's semi-annual Outcomes reports are not required by the Agreement to be shared with the COAB or the public for feedback. PCW put out an analysis of the April report highlighting, among other things:
• 14% of people with mental health issues subjected to force were passively resisting or not resisting;
• Three stories of people in mental health crisis the police manhandled rather than using de- escalation;
• An inadequate review of outcomes of the complaint system, though the COCL does properly report that only 3.1% of allegations made were "Sustained" (see article);
• The Youth Services Division did not review the performance of two officers who used force enough times to trip over threshholds listed in the Employee Information System; and
• The Service Coordination Team went down from a graduation rate of 20% in October to under 16% in May.
On July 6, the COAB Executive Committee met using a conference call, asking members of the public to listen in on speaker-phone at City Hall. It's unclear what business transpired because separating the Board from the public caused confusion. Though allowed under Oregon Public Meetings law, having a remote meeting of a body representing and taking input from the public was a bad idea. After at least six of the then-10 remaining COAB members publicly stated their opposition to holding the July 14 regular Board meeting with that same set-up, Rosenbaum and Watson wisely agreed to the meeting at City Council chambers.
On July 28, the COCL team used more than their allotted time to update the community on progress since the April Compliance report, handing out a few previously unseen documents. While the team expressed concern that a poll showed 90% of officers do not think the DOJ Agreement will improve the Bureau, they neglected to highlight one of their own document's findings: that the police continue to believe, for instance, saying "do what I say and I won't Taser you" is a form of de-escalation.
With all the turmoil, the Oregonian focused a June 17 editorial on the City's role in making the COAB dysfunctional. The COCL team's Dr. Watson wrote an op-ed on June 28 blaming "a small group of angry people, some of whom identify as having lived experience of mental illness," while taking zero responsibility for the problems. Similarly, their "divorce letter" complained about the COAB disrespecting them. One only need to look at behaviors such as the COCL (with support from the DOJ), telling the Board's Use of Force Subcommittee they could not review the Bureau's proposed policy on the Special Emergency Reaction Team to see that the problem starts at the top.
In sum, Portland is facing three major problems: a Bureau that's not taking the Settlement Agreement to heart, an out-of-town COCL who just doesn't "get it", and a COAB which is being constrained from doing what the community expects it to do.
The New York Times cited Portland as a model city to handle people in mental health crisis (April 26). The article did not include interviews with Portlanders living with mental illness, or civilians who know that the number of shootings was back up to 6 last year with the majority of those shot/killed in mental health crisis.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.