People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
DOJ Settlement Oversight Off to Rocky Start; Citizen Group
Stands Up to Chicago Contractor, Local Contact Resigns
Near the end of January, 25 members were named to the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB), whose job is to independently assess the City's compliance with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Settlement Agreement. That group has already shown both assertiveness and dysfunction. They explicitly made race part of their mission statement, even though it's barely mentioned in the Agreement, and questioned the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL)'s choice of contractor to conduct community surveys. However, they also trudged through the creation of their bylaws, and, after deferring to the City Attorney on who could serve on their Executive Committee, failed to create such a Committee until their third meeting. In early April, Justice Paul De Muniz, the local contact for the COCL, stepped down citing health reasons, leaving a vacuum. Meanwhile, the City Auditor released a report showing most officers can't articulate the Bureau's Use of Force policy, and the City went into mediation with the DOJ as a precursor to its appeal of Judge Michael Simon's order to hold annual hearings on the progress of the Agreement (PPR #64). The Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform kicked off a campaign in January to force the City to drop that appeal.
The COAB is made up of 15 voting members, 5 alternates, and 5 police officer "advisors." At the first meeting, held in February, were Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum, the actual COCL from Chicago, and Jonas Geissler, the DOJ lawyer from DC in charge of the case. The COAB's painful process of writing bylaws and protocols distracted from getting to issues about police use of force. However, they included race as an issue in the bylaws, so the group won't be boxed in by the prevailing narrative that police and mental health crises is the only issue on the table.
Another issue that took time at the March meeting was a discussion about whether to continue contracting with the same group at Portland State University which produced a biased report in 2014. The report focused on "over 50% of Portlanders trust the police" rather than concerns about race, violence, treatment of people with mental illness, or that the only items rating 4 or higher in a scale of 1-5 were questions about calling the cops for help. After enormous push-back, Dr. Rosenbaum proposed that he hire PSU to conduct the surveys but that his group would write the report. Because the vote failed to meet the "major actions" quorum of an 8-member vote, Rosenbaum pulled the Council item. At the revote on April 9, the COAB decided to delay the vote again until other options could be examined.
A March discussion prompted Deputy City Attorney Ellen Osoinach to give her interpretation of state law that alternate COAB members could not serve on the Executive Committee. Even though hers was only an opinion (unfortunately echoed by local DOJ representative Bill Williams), a large majority voted to support her, with former CRC member Rochelle Silver declaring "I don't want to do anything illegal."
The Auditor's report, based on research done in 2013-14, found the Bureau responds quickly to lessons learned during high profile cases, but doesn't integrate those changes into long-term training. Moreover, it shockingly revealed that only one officer out of several classes could say how the PPB's force policy urges officers to use less than the highest amount of force allowed by law. The COAB never got around to discussing the report. The COCL's attitude seems to be "under DOJ deadlines, we'd rather do it on time than do it right."
In April, the COAB held two meetings. An April 2 community forum in N. Portland began with an hour-long public relations blitz from the Bureau and its community partners. Frustrated audience members eventually got up one by one and told personal stories about misconduct. At the April 9 regular meeting, the COAB conceded to many points in a memo Rosenbaum wrote basically declaring "the paid staff is in charge," in part because the DOJ again backed the COCL over the COAB. Alternate members were banished from discussion, the COCL told the Board they "wouldn't know what to do" with raw data if he gave it to them, and the DOJ declared there's no conflict of interest for the City Attorney to give advice to the Board despite her heading up the appeal of Judge Simon's order.
On March 18, the Portland Mercury broke the story that Justice De Muniz had moved his office from the Rosewood Initiative, a community center, to an Office of Neighborhood Involvement office attached to the Bureau's Traffic Division. A City Council ordinance passed in late January specified the space was to be at Rosewood, and was not supposed to be in a City building. It's not clear who will use the office, since Rosenbaum told the Mercury (April 10) he wasn't sure he'd replace the judge.
At a January 7 rally just prior to the Council vote that secured the COCL's funding (including $75,000 in travel expenses that would not be needed had a local team been picked), the AMA Coalition decried the City's effort to avoid annual reports to the Court. While the Mayor and Council continue to claim the appeal is about "clarifying the scope" of the hearings, the paperwork they filed reads:
***The three main issues on appeal are (a) whether Federal Rule[s] authorize a court to impose conditions on a dismissal without defendant's consent; (b) whether the district court has jurisdiction to convene post-dismissal ancillary proceedings unrelated to [the] agreement and; (c) whether the district court's order changed the terms of the settlement agreement...***
Mediation took place in February, March and April, but the results have not been made public.
* The City and County are in discussions with Legacy hospitals to create a "Center for Behavioral Health" which accepts walk-in patients. It's not clear if police could use it as a drop-off center when a person in custody is not engaged in criminal behavior but needs psychiatric evaluation (Oregonian, February 6).
* The Training Advisory Council met in February, but did not have a quorum. The group formed two committees: One to recruit new members (at least 5 of the original 30 are dropping off after two years, and others have resigned), the other to examine training scenarios.
To join the AMA Coalition's campaign to "Rescind the Appeal," go to www.albinaministerialcoalition.org/DO J.html.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.