People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Proposed Changes to Oversight System Still in the Works
The day after we published our last newsletter, the City posted a revised version of its proposed changes to the "Independent" Police Review Division (IPR), its Citizen Review Committee (CRC), and the Police Review Board (PRB). Rather than having CRC hear appeals with the PRB behind closed doors (PPR #69), the new proposal retains public hearings-- but explicitly states no public input will be taken at those hearings.* After City Council heard opposition from a large number of community members and organizations on September 14, they set up a Stakeholder Group to look at the two most controversial parts of the proposed ordinance: the end of public testimony, and allowing the 11-member CRC to hear appeals in panels of just three people. Portland Copwatch noted that with the current make-up of CRC, panels might include nothing but white women; also, should one member be absent, no hearing could take place. The Stakeholder Group met on November 14 and 28, proposing CRC be expanded to 15 members and the quorum for hearings remain at 5. As for public input at hearings, the jury is still out.
Leading up to the Council hearing, a second community forum was held, this time at Maranatha Church. Two City Attorneys and the IPR Director heard from many voices, including CRC members, a member of the Police Review Board, and community groups. Each expressed concerns about the plans and the speed of the effort to change the system.
Separately, the Auditor announced on November 30 she hopes to gain more independence by embedding the IPR (and the Ombudsman's office) in the City Charter.
A broad variety of groups testified to Council, leading Mayor Hales to say he was paying attention when hearing members of CRC agreeing with the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition, the League of Women Voters, and Portland Copwatch. Others testifying included the ACLU of Oregon, Sisters Of The Road, and the National Lawyers Guild. Unfortunately, current CRC member Jim Young, who sat on the behind-closed-doors "Focus Group"-- which led to most of the City's ill- advised proposed changes-- testified he opposed public input at appeal hearings. It's true Mr. Young was doused with water at a hearing (PPR #68), but that happened after the vote had concluded, so wouldn't be prevented by eliminating public comment.
If the goal of the City is to meet the standards of the US Department of Justice, which require CRC to hold hearings within the impossible deadline of 21 days from the time an appeal is filed, the 15- 20 minutes taken up by community comments will have no significant impact on that timeline. The Portland Tribune reported that even Portland Police Association (PPA) President Daryl Turner said "he and his members don't support the elimination of public comment at public appeals hearings" (September 8).
Amazingly, IPR Director Constantin Severe testified to Council that several long-sought changes to the system-- giving IPR power to compel officer testimony, to review officer-involved shootings and to send those cases to CRC-- can't be changed without fixing the PPA contract. Unfortunately, the City had already finished negotiating that contract two days earlier, with no changes to the accountability system (article).
The original proposal putting CRC hearings at the Police Review Board would have allowed them to hear appeals of deadly force cases; that provision disappeared in the revised proposal.
Despite Council's concerns, Auditor Mary Hull Caballero told the Tribune "I put [forward] the proposal that I thought was best, after a year and a half of conversation... I will not be amending the proposal" (September 20).
PCW has pointed out a number of flaws in the logic of cutting out public comment, including that the current ordinance limits CRC to making its decisions based on information in the investigative file. The fact that police officers are afforded paid advocates as part of their collective bargaining while community members may or may not have volunteer "advisors" makes the system unfair. On the bright side, the proposed ordinance would allow, for the first time, complainants (or survivors of those who die in custody) to testify at PRB hearings; however, there is no provision for them to be assigned paid advocates at that level either. This would leave them in a room of mostly police officers, an IPR staff person, and at most one PRB member and one CRC member "representing" the community.
The Stakeholder Group included members of most of the organizations listed above-- including PCW, the PPA and the CRC. Their final report reflected the divide among members regarding when the public should be heard at hearings-- before or after the CRC vote. The report also listed a number of issues raised but not discussed due to the narrow scope of the Group, including getting rid of "Conference Hearings" where the chief comes back to argue with CRC findings, and changing their standard of review from "reasonable person" to "preponderance of the evidence." At PPR deadline, IPR has placed changes to the code on the Council Agenda for February 8.
* The proposed ordinance also would prohibit public input at CRC's Case File Reviews, where they determine whether there is enough information to proceed with an appeal.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.