People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
City Appeals Judge's Order to Return to Court with Plans to Fix Oversight Board
Judge Michael Simon held an extraordinary October 25 status conference on the progress made implementing the Settlement Agreement between the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the City of Portland. The Agreement requires changes to the Portland Police based on a pattern and practice of excessive force. Though Simon allowed the City to use up twice as much time as any other party, he also called upon community members to testify. Simon was clearly trying to show the City how to hold a public hearing on a controversial topic without resorting to strong-arm tactics to shut people out (as had happened two weeks before at City Hall around the police "union" contract-- above). The main finding of the DOJ-- that the City was out of compliance for failing to keep the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB) functioning-- led Simon to require the City to return to his courtroom by the end of January with a plan to fix COAB. The City filed an appeal to the Judge's order on December 9, asking that he be removed from the case for bias.
Meanwhile, after returning from a two month "recess" COAB added 48 new recommendations about the oversight system to the 50 or so ideas they already sent to the Bureau/DOJ, but has still not received any meaningful feed-back on their suggestions. Also, the Compliance Officer/Community Liaison (COCL) and DOJ released new report cards on the City's progress.
The six-hour status conference included the four main parties to the Agreement-- the DOJ, the City, the Portland Police Association (PPA) and the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition (AMAC) for Justice and Police Reform. Having let the City go on for 90 minutes, including their showing a video of officers and civilians who'd ended a few potentially volatile situations peacefully, the Judge cut off the COCL team after about 20 minutes and COAB member Tom Steenson after 15. Thirteen community members (including three members of Portland Copwatch/PCW) plus Commissioner Amanda Fritz collectively took up the last 90 minutes of the hearing. Simon explicitly gave PCW permission to send documents directly to him relating to the Agreement-- a huge step forward for our organization.
The judge hinted to the DOJ several times that if they asked him to find the City in non-compliance, the Agreement allows him to come up with a resolution which could over-ride the PPA contract. Instead, the DOJ requested, in essence, that the City give a written plan to the judge in 30 days and return to court in 90 days. When the judge ordered the City to return, they balked, claiming his 2015 order which changed annual evidentiary hearings into status conferences (PPR #66) only allows for one hearing per year. They further charged the judge allowed "sexist and racist" comments to be made during public input, adding he had no right to allow the community to speak. In response, the judge said when they returned to court, he would address their concerns, including that he invited activist Joe Walsh to speak. Last year, Walsh won a lawsuit heard by Simon, who ruled the City can exclude people from public meetings one day at a time, but not impose a blanket exclusion. On December 14, the Judge suspended the extra hearing until the City's appeal is resolved.
COAB's efforts came to a halt on August 22 (shortly after our last issue went to press) when the City and DOJ declared the group would take a 60 day hiatus, defying input from community members including the AMAC. COAB had been unable to meet because City Council refused (as they testified in court) to fill the four vacancies left open by their appointees' resignations. The Human Rights Commission and Commission on Disabilities have two seats to fill, and two at-large members need to be picked by the community, leaving 7 active members of the 15 member Board (Jimi Johnson resigned in December). Once they reconvened in October, COAB changed their bylaws to allow meetings of a majority of seated members, clearing the way to get back to work. They adopted oversight recommendations from their Accountability Subcommittee, which should have influenced the City's discussion on fixing the Independent Police Review Division and Citizen Review Committee (article), but came too late because of the empty seats and recess.
COAB was allowed to prepare for Simon's status conference by having work sessions in late September and early October during their "recess." In addition, the City held a community forum at Maranatha Church (hosted by AMAC) on September 12 to gather community input on how to fix COAB. Unsurprisingly, they did not use that input to make changes-- they seemed more interested in putting on a show for the judge that these efforts were underway.
At their November meeting, COAB asked the Bureau why their recommendations, made over the course of a year and a half with intense research, were being ignored while those of the Behavioral Health Unit Advisory Committee (BHUAC) were being adopted and/or responded to. Mary Claire Buckley, who works with the Bureau's Compliance Coordinator to oversee implementation of the Agreement, pointed to the few mental health Directives that had been finalized, noting the DOJ mentioned taking COAB's comments under advisement when reviewing those policies. Buckley also falsely claimed COAB hadn't made recommendations about the by-then-finalized Training Directive. She did not answer why COAB's proposals about racially neutral policing were not incorporated when the Bureau changed its Bias-Based Policing policy late in 2015 to match state law (PPR #67).
BHUAC members attending the meeting reported they had voted twice not to open their meetings to the public, but were open to ways to communicate with COAB and the general public to create a better feedback mechanism. In many ways, COAB's Mental Health Crisis Response Subcommittee should just merge with the BHUAC to avoid duplication of effort.
The COAB, flabbergasted at their treatment as second-class citizens, demanded they be allowed to attend the closed-door meetings of the DOJ, City/PPB, and COCL to finalize Directives.
The Agreement calls for the Chief and Police Commissioner (Mayor) to meet with COAB at least twice a year. The December 8 COAB meeting was slated to be the first of these meetings to happen in the two years since the Agreement was finalized--but the Chief and Mayor cancelled six days before the meeting citing "other commitments." (The meeting was later cancelled due to snow.)
The Compliance Officer's 1st/2nd Quarter 2016 Assessment Report (October 1) and the DOJ's annual report card on the City (October 18) came out in advance of the status conference. PCW's analysis was subtitled "City Listens to Secret Committees While Public Ones Implode; DOJ and COCL Trade Off Going Easy on PPB." We found the COCL (and DOJ) essentially signed off on letting officers get their stories straight after shootings by not ordering communications restrictions for up to six hours after an incident. The COCL's report was also key to discovering how the BHUAC's recommendations, like the "focus group" on the oversight system, received more attention from the City than the COAB-- which was created specifically to oversee the Agreement. The DOJ called out how the Bureau handled Chief O'Dea's off-duty shooting as an example of non-compliance (article). PCW's analysis notes DOJ gave ratings higher than the COCL 17 times, while the COCL gave the Bureau higher ratings 14 times, creating confusion.
In November, the COCL released its third "Outcome Report," which delves into statistics and officer feedback on the changes underway at the Bureau. The majority of officers continue to feel the Agreement is a "distraction" which is not helpful, while their faith in their own leadership plummeted and agreement that community members should participate in oversight went down. Overall PCW found the cops were not using less force because it was the right thing to do, but rather, as the report says, to "cover their ass."
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.