Mayor's Task Force Proposes Police Review Board with Teeth

On Monday, October 30, members of the NAACP, the National Lawyers Guild, the League of Women Voters, the Metropolitan Human Rights Center, Portland Copwatch, street roots, and current and former members of Portland's "police review board" finalized their report to Mayor Vera Katz, offering improvements to the current system of reviewing allegations of police misconduct. The individuals involved had been appointed to a work group by Mayor Katz, who acts as the Police Commissioner and the Commissioner in charge of the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC), Portland's current toothless review board.

The report is a detailed argument in favor of "substantially expanding [PIIAC] by giving it additional powers including, but not limited to, the authority to conduct independent investigations, compel testimony, make final findings as to the merits of a complaint and review investigations of police shootings and deaths in custody." The current PIIAC is limited to reviewing Police Internal Affairs Division investigations performed by police officers.

The main components of the recommendations were proposed to the Mayor in May, 2000 by the NAACP and the National Lawyers Guild, and endorsed by a number of other community groups and individuals. The model proposed is also very similar to the one put forward in the Police Accountability Campaign-2000 (PAC-2000) initiative, with the exception of a very few items. One difference is that PAC-2000's initiative called for the review board to have the power to "mandate changes" to police policies, while the work group's proposed model is limited to recommendations on policy issues. Also, the work group proposes a review board that recommends whether discipline happens, rather than recommending the level of discipline as would have been possible in the PAC-2000 initiative. Last, the work group is undecided on the matter of the review board's independence from City Council; this is primarily due to legal questions that would be better resolved through a City Charter change and ballot initiative. PAC-2000 was clear that the review board should have its power independent of Council.

Other proposals include a mandate to hold public hearings on police policy (although PIIAC currently has this power, they have never used it); community intake sites separate from City Hall and the Police Bureau (to encourage those who distrust the police and people with direct ties to City Hall to file complaints); volunteers to help people through the system; feedback forms about the process; a public awareness program; and term limits for board members.

The twenty-four recommendations, voted on by a majority of the work group, draw the blueprints for a review board which will be among the strongest and best in the country if implemented correctly and with appropriate ongoing citizen scrutiny.

Despite the fact that eight of the 24 recommendations were approved unanimously, and 11 others were passed by twelve or more members of the group, a minority report was drawn up by six members of the group, trashing the independent model. The "minority group" included representatives of the Portland Police Association and the Citizens Crime Commission, the current Chair of PIIAC's Citizen Advisors, a former police officer "representing" the Asian-American community, and former PIIAC staff person Lisa Botsko, who actually resigned from the work group in July. The minority report adopted elements of perhaps 11 of those recommendations approved by the whole group, trashed another seven, and ignored the remaining six. Where they came up with the rest of their proposals is not exactly clear. The majority report analyzed the work group's 24 recommendations exactly as written; the minority report rewrites even the least threatening proposals.

At a meeting on November 9, Mayor Katz told the group she had not made up her mind about what to do, but would hold a "Council Informal" (to be cablecast on CityNet 30) at which some of the members --representing the majority and minority views--could present the proposals to all of the Commissioners. A public hearing will presumably follow.

For a copy of the majority report, contact Alan Graf at the National Lawyers Guild, 503-228-5222x104. The report is also on line at see the City's website or PCW's online version (including a visual chart). (this info updated 3/18/15)

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