People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Judge Enters DOJ Agreement but City Appeals Annual Hearings
Shortly after People's Police Report #63 was printed, Judge Michael Simon entered the Settlement Agreement between the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the City of Portland into the court record on August 29. The official acceptance of the Agreement, meant to remedy what the DOJ said was a pattern of excessive use of force, especially against those in mental health crisis (PPR #58), sets in motion dozens of require-ments to fix the Bureau's policies, training, oversight and data analysis. While the City initially expressed enthusiasm for the ability to move forward with the (inadequate) reforms, in mid-October they betrayed that claim by voting to file an appeal challenging the judge's order for annual status hearings on the Agreement. The vote came despite loud objections from the community. Even the usually-wrong Oregonian editorial board wrote "[Mayor] Hales should swallow ego, accept federal authority" (October 22).
The issue of the annual hearings partially delayed the judge's ruling between the Fairness Hearing in February and his decision in August. The parties to the suit, including the Portland Police Association and Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, could not agree on a format for reporting. The City rejected the idea that Simon-- who noted in open court he could only ask questions, not direct anyone to do anything-- had the authority to order such hearings. Even though Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz insisted the appeal was only to "clarify" what evidence the judge would be asking for at the hearings, City Attorney Ellen Osoinach made it obvious that the issue heading to the Ninth Circuit Court would be whether the judge overstepped his authority. While there is concern the appeal could stymie the actual reforms, the City claims they are continuing to implement the Agreement and only worried about the annual reports-back.
Shortly after the vote to appeal, Council again defied public opinion by choosing the only one of three finalists to act as "Compliance Officer/Community Liaison" (COCL) for the Agreement who'd been rejected by their hand-picked advisory committee of community members. On October 29, Council heard the last public input on the three finalists for COCL. Two from Portland (John Campbell and Daniel Ward) had the backing of the community panel which conducted interviews. Where 21 people, including from the AMA Coalition, Portland Copwatch (PCW), and Disability Rights Oregon, testified against the appeal, only three people testified about the COCL, likely due to the lack of commitment shown by ordering the appeal and the previous 30-day window for written feedback. None testified in favor of the person who won the contract-- Dennis Rosenbaum of the National Police Research Platform in Chicago. The interview committee made it clear that without ongoing local presence, no matter how good their work on mental illness and statistics-crunching skills, Rosenbaum's team would not be a good fit. Fritz said a private meeting with former Oregon Supreme Court Justice Paul De Muniz, who plans to work as Rosenbaum's Portland liaison three days a week, sealed her decision. That De Muniz's involvement was not emphasized until after the public process was over didn't seem to matter.
The next step involving the public will be appointing a 15-member Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB). Five will be chosen by the Human Rights Commission and Commission on Disabilities; five by City Council, and five by a process still being defined. Rather than the Agreement's wacky signature-gathering/vote plan, a panel of stakeholders will choose those five members. The COAB will be chaired by the COCL and include five police officers, but none of those six people vote. The COAB will make recommendations about COCL reports and Bureau policy, but likely will be limited to the terms of the Agreement, thus unable to address its shortcomings.
At the appeal decision, the Mayor held up a chart, crowing that the Bureau has begun or completed work on all 88 items. However, that list was created by the Portland Police, and the point of having a COCL and COAB is so someone else determines compliance. One hotly contested item is the creation of a walk-in/drop-off center, which the City labelled merely "aspirational." The Oregonian again uncharacteristically called on Council to fund a center, ignoring half- hearted excuses that the County, not the City, is in charge of health services (October 31). Weeks later, Hales told the Portland Mercury he would provide money for a drop-off, but not a walk-in center (November 19).
Judge Simon also suggested the City put body cameras on officers, a controversial idea raising questions from cops and activists (article here).
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.