People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
City Disbands Oversight Board Meant to Ensure Police Reform
After two years of the City failing to follow an imperative in the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Settlement Agreement requiring the Mayor (Police Commissioner) to attend two meetings per year of the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB), new Mayor Ted Wheeler showed up at what turned out to be COAB's last meeting. Making matters worse, Wheeler did not act to extend the seven remaining COAB members' terms for another year, or at least until a new system was devised. Meanwhile, the City's appeal of Judge Michael Simon's order for them to return to federal court to explain their plans for re-inventing the COAB (PPR #70) is headed to mediation at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Oregonian, March 24).
Although the Mayor appeared sympathetic to those attending the January 26 meeting and the idea of continuing COAB, he did not reappoint or support the reappointment of any of the seated members. Neither Wheeler nor any other member of Council made moves to fill the eight empty seats. Wheeler could have filled the seat vacated by former Mayor Charlie Hales' representative, who resigned last June (PPR #69). Commissioner Amanda Fritz gets some credit as her appointee, Dr. Rochelle Silver, was the only Council appointee who didn't resign; however, Fritz also failed to extend Silver's term.
COAB met October 27 and November 10, but did not meet in December or mid-January because of snow, so their last meeting was only the third held since July. They adopted a recommendation for the Bureau to eliminate the "gang list" which was revealed to be racially imbalanced (also PPR #70). Because of ongoing tension, the Board refused to allow the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL) to present findings of a community survey, even though COAB helped design the survey in the first place (see sidebar).
The formation of COAB was required by the Agreement stemming from DOJ's lawsuit against Portland for use of excessive force. After COAB spent much of its time examining and rewriting police Directives (policies), the City became increasingly unsupportive. COAB recommended changes to the Bureau's rules about bias-free policing, use of force and other matters which would hold individual officers accountable for misconduct, as well as police training methods. For the most part, they never received feedback from the Bureau or DOJ.
Some officers appointed to advise COAB were hostile to the Board's policy recommendations. One officer attempted to have COAB members removed (PPR #67). Although the attempt was unsuccessful, it indicated the attitude of officials who do not support reform.
The City took a passive aggressive posture toward the COAB. In addition to refusing to replace COAB members who resigned, they placed the Board on hiatus for two months before the second annual status conference in Simon's courtroom to examine the City's progress.
When Wheeler attended the COAB meeting, he promised to examine the 50+ recommendations the Board made. The five COAB members present voted to ask to be reappointed for another year to continue doing work.
Wheeler failed to take further action, and COAB was allowed to expire. Despite Portland's reputation as a progressive city, they seem to be hoping Attorney General Jeff Sessions will keep his promise to stop investigating local police for constitutional violations. Even if the City never emerges from mediation sessions with the DOJ, the Portland Police Association, and the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform with a "COAB 2.0" plan, there may be nobody left in the federal government to hold Portland accountable.
In the COCL's revised 1st/2nd Quarter report, only 15 of 61 community recommendations were fully incorporated. Among the rejected changes, the COCL refused to suggest the Behavioral Health Unit's Advisory Council hold public meetings or come to COAB with draft proposals so they can be vetted in a public setting. On the other hand, they did clarify they want officers to be separated immediately after a shooting incident, but are ok with written notification being generated in 2-6 hours (the previous draft made it sound as if officers could talk to one another for that whole time period). They also changed the words "community activists" to "community members" in describing who disrupted COAB meetings. However, all they did to take responsibility for COAB's demise was to say there was a "strained relationship between the Chair and certain members of the COAB," which is an understatement at best and ignores the Chair's heavy-handed tactics to control people attending meetings.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.