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Charter Commission Police Initiatives End With a Whimper Beginning in March 2011, Portland Copwatch encouraged the Charter Review Commission, established by Council two months earlier, to embed civilian police oversight into the City's "constitution." The first real opportunity did not arise until January 2012, when a police accountability subcommittee was formed. That committee sent three initiatives to the City Attorney to generate language for the November ballot: two which would ban the use of police animals (such as horses) and chemical agents at protests, and one to create the skeletal framework of an oversight agency.
The Charter Commission held two public hearings on the animals and chemicals in February. They received overwhelming testimony in support, mostly by Occupy Portland activists who'd seen or been subjected to the use of horses and pepper spray first hand. One notable exception was the Citizens Crime Commission (CCC), a business-supported lobbying group which complained about taking away "tools" like horses and pepper spray. Another was developer, Reserve Police Officer and Friends of Portland's Mounted Patrol board member Bob Ball, who claimed horses "have a calming effect." Ball read a letter from Sharon Harmon, Executive Director of the Oregon Humane Society (and another board member at Friends of the Mounted Patrol) professing that using horses at protests is safe. (It is telling that the Portland Police Association posted a copy of that letter to its "Rap Sheet" website.)
One of the CCC's complaints about the pepper spray ban was the lack of time to deliberate on it. City Council's aim was to have the Commission make "housekeeping" amendments, but no substantive changes to the Charter. That plan was undercut by Commissioner Dan Saltzman, whose efforts to create an Independent Utility Commission almost made it to the ballot. Unfortunately, as is usually the case (the 2007 Charter Commission also punted on the question of police oversight), once the community asked for real accountability, the electeds squashed their own committee. The Charter Commission's terms were not extended past March 3, with the language on oversight still resting in the City Attorney's office. The City is not obligated to create another Commission for 10 years, though they promise to do so sooner.
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.