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More Changes To Portland Oversight System On The Way?
In mid-September, the Police Oversight Stakeholder Group, made up of over 30 community members, police officers, elected officials and city staffers, produced a report including 41 recommendations to further strengthen and review Portland's system of police oversight. That report was accepted by City Council at a December 1 public hearing. Mayor Sam Adams promised a slate of new changes to the ordinance by mid-January. The Group was created by the same City Ordinance that granted new powers to the Independent Police Review Division (IPR) and merged two existing boards into the new Police Review Board in March (PPR #50).
Even though some of the recommendations do not go as far as we would like, Portland Copwatch voted in favor of all of them. For example, the report suggests that investigations done by the IPR's civilian staff (as opposed to usual misconduct investigations done by the Bureau's Internal Affairs Division [IAD]) should include shootings, deaths in custody, and physical injury requiring hospitalization. However, the report does not require IPR to conduct these investigations. Other recommendations include improving the Citizen Review Committee (CRC)'s standard of review, increasing their size and length of terms, granting them a staff person, and expanding or clarifying their powers to hold appeals on misconduct complaints.
Some compromises were made by the community after pushback from the City. Despite those concessions, and the ability to vote "no" or "abstain," the Portland Police Association and Portland Police Commanding Officers Association both refused to fill out surveys to vote on the proposals. Auditor Lavonne Griffin Valade and IPR Director Mary-Beth Baptista, who sat in at nearly all the meetings, announced after the report was adopted that they had deliberately held back from offering their opinions. Valade issued a response to the report in November, agreeing with many recommendations, deferring some to Council and the Bureau, but disagreeing with 8 of the 12 proposals to strengthen the CRC and a total of 13 of the 41 recommendations. Most of Valade's arguments boil down to "This is not what the Citizen Review Committee was envisioned to do" and/or "I am the elected Auditor and you (City Council and the public) can't make me." Hmm, that attitude reminds us of someone... oh yeah, former Auditor Gary Blackmer, who created the IPR to undercut a community ballot measure for a stronger review board (PPR #23). Chief Reese released his opinions in late November, echoing many of the Auditor's concerns.
There is some hope that Council might ignore the Auditor and Chief on some issues, since the CRC wrote their own letter supporting many of the controversial changes, including changing their standard of review from the "reasonable person" standard to "preponderance of the evidence."
Whether the Auditor and Commissioner Leonard will write new proposed City Code to reflect the report while involving the rest of City Council and the public remains to be seen.
Read the report (.pdf format): www.cdri.com/library/PoliceOversightStakeholderReport2010_V2.pdf.
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through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.