People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Other Information Contact info
Human Rights Commission, Community/ Police Relations Committee Absorbed into Equity Office
On September 21, Portland City Council replaced the three-year-old Office of Human Relations (OHR) with the new Office of Equity and Human Rights. This came after long battles over the limited independence of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and its Community/Police Relations Committee (CPRC), a battle that, in part, led to the dismissal of the OHR's first director in May 2011 (PPR #54).
While the new ordinance goes a long way to integrating the HRC into the Equity office, it does not fully restore their authority from existing code. Previous City Code required that the Director of the Office of Human Relations could only be removed by Council (as in, the whole Council) upon request of the Mayor, and only "after consideration of the recommendation of the Human Rights Commission." There are no provisions in the new code for all of Council to take responsibility for the staff of the Equity office in this way; worse, the HRC no longer has a say in whether their own staff will be terminated. That provision was part of the showdown between Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who has the office in her auspices, and former OHR Director Marķa Lisa Johnson. In essence, Johnson was forced to resign because if Fritz had tried to fire her, Council would have had to hear the HRC say how much they supported Johnson. Instead, the new ordinance states that the Director of the Equity Office will work with the Commissioner in Charge and "consult with" HRC to fill a "senior staff position" to "assist" HRC.
In addition, the new ordinance (but not the new City Code) directs that "The Office of Equity and Human Rights must work with the City Attorney's office... to help meet the City's legal obligations to protect and advance the civil rights of all persons." This is the same City Attorney's office that defended the officers who beat James Chasse, Jr. to death in 2006.
The HRC has been pushing the Charter Commission to add a Human Rights Commission in the City Charter. We support that, as long as the HRC, the Independent Police Review Division, and the Ombudsman all are enshrined and are given their own legal counsel to prevent conflicts of interest between human rights and the City's indiscriminate desire to defend itself against lawsuits.
The new ordinance also moves the Portland Commission on Disability from the Office of Neighborhood Involvement. It seems reasonable to include that Commission in Equity efforts. Remember, the HRC's letter to City Council condemning the "Sidewalk Management" (Sit/Lie) ordinance pointed out that Sit/Lie's reliance on the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn't promote human rights, but pits people who are poor and homeless against people with disabilities (PPR #52).
To its credit, the ordinance included this instruction: "Achieving equity requires the intentional examination of policies and practices that, even if they have the appearance of fairness, may marginalize individuals or groups and perpetuate disparities." We hope this means the City will get rid of Sit/Lie, the Gun Free and Drug Free Zones, and other programs which are unevenly enforced based on class and race.
It was pretty clear that Adams and Fritz were not going to get enough votes unless they figured out how to include the HRC in the Equity office. There are many questions about the budget-- which includes about half a million dollars in new money on top of OHR's existing half-million dollar budget-- including a smackdown in which Commissioner Saltzman left City Council chambers to allow a unanimous vote on the salary for the new Equity office director (Oregonlive, November 2).
Meanwhile, CPRC's recent meetings were poorly attended, with the November meeting cancelled due to a lack of quorum. CPRC did talk about Racial Profiling in October, detailing training videos, "self-reflective" discussions, and a goal of five years to educate the whole Bureau. It would be good to hear why so many more people of color are still stopped, frisked, arrested, and violently treated by Portland Police. A discussion about the Bureau's mission to Bangladesh (see article, this issue) seemed to be just another diversion from this topic.
At the October 19 meeting, Commander Mike Crebs led a discussion about the Bureau's relationship to Occupy Portland, mis-stating that all officers attending meetings had gone in uniform (an indymedia video shows undercover cops at one meeting) and extolling the great relationship between protestors and cops (which would soon come to an end - see article, this issue.). They also discussed more about "less lethal" force, particularly "beanbag" shotguns, and training that includes decision-making and communication as well as weapons skills.
Both HRC and CPRC were recruiting for more members in November. We will let you know of any significant changes in the line-ups.
Portland Copwatch Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability
through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.