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Community Centered Plan Seemingly Dismantled
by Council and City Attorney

It's been a very eventful few months for the Police Accountability Commission (PAC). The PAC, a diverse group of community volunteers created by the City Council to make the framework for a new police accountability system mandated by a 2020 ballot measure, met from December 2021 to August 2023 (PPRs #85, 86, 87, 88, 89, & 90). After countless hours of work, the 20-member Commission, [<i>Oregonian</i> November 10 article]sometimes meeting two or three times per week, completed their proposal in August. They submitted their 97 page set of recommended Code changes to City Council in early September along with a 65 page report explaining the plan and how they came to their conclusions. At their presentation to Council on September 21, PAC was met with some familiar skepticism from Council about elements embedded in the Charter, which the Commission was unable to change, particularly the budget ("no less than the equivalent of 5% of the Police Bureau's"), and the prohibition on current/former officers being on the Board. On November 15, the City Attorney and representatives from the five Council members' offices presented their own version, cut down to 27 pages and missing most of the equity goals baked into PAC's plan. It's a hollow effort if community members who are harmed by police are supposed to trust filing complaints with the new system.

The PAC hosted multiple community outreach meetings online and throughout the city and met with many City officials, the police "union," and other stakeholders to form their recommendations. They looked at practices in Portland and around the country to find those that would best fit the new system. The PAC had attorneys analyze and format the recommendations for City Code.

Technically, the November 15 hearing was to review proposed changes to the US Department of Justice Settlement Agreement which are required to align the Agreement's existing provisions for the current system with the Board proposed by the PAC. In the course of a 3.5 hour hearing, no presentation was made about those amendments. Nobody had seen the City's proposed code until Tuesday, November 7, but the City rushed their "feckless"*-1 plan in order to meet an arbitrary 60- day deadline from the DOJ.*-2 Fifty-five people testified, including 12 former PAC members. Another five former PAC members submitted written testimony among the 250+ submissions. The vast majority of oral and written testimony supported the PAC and blasted the City diverging so significantly from the PAC's recommendations, made worse by a lack of explanation or even consulting the PAC.

Some of the changes were minor but others threaten to undermine the integrity, independence, and transparency of the oversight system. Here are some examples:

[screenshot of City Council meeting]--The City recommended placing representatives of the Chief of Police and the two police collective bargaining units on the selection committee to nominate members for the new Community Board for Police Accountability (CBPA). The main purpose of the new oversight system was to create a system independent of the police, but the City wants to allow the police to choose who polices the police.

--The City wishes to make all hearings confidential, except when an officer asks for a public hearing. However, because the CBPA will be a public body, they have to take their final vote in an open meeting. To water down that transparency, Council's proposed code forbids the Board from naming the officer or elaborating on the accusations. The votes would be on a proposal such as "For allegation #1, we find officer A violated policy." That's literally what they would have to say, not a generic example. This leaves the public completely in the dark except that an officer was accused of something (anything from improper conduct all the way to unjustified deadly force) and the accusation was either sustained or not sustained. The existing system, like most other oversight systems in the country, allows for two other findings reflecting there being insufficient evidence or that the allegations were unfounded, but the City has cut those as well.

--The PAC proposed that any complaint involving a community member would be investigated by the new Board's Office of Community-based Police Accountability (OCPA). But Council removed more than half the misconduct types from OCPA's purview, instead keeping in place Internal Affairs-- police investigating other police. This fundamental conflict of interest is what led people to vote to replace the oversight system in the first place.

--The City removed the longstanding ability of community members to appeal findings while the police retained that ability, another example of a system designed to unjustly favor the police and limit accountability. Appeals have been part of the oversight system since the first one was created in 1982. Similarly, that board, the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee, and the current office, the "Independent" Police Review, were explicitly charged to review Internal Affairs investigations to ensure integrity. The new Office has very limited authority to do so in the proposed Code.

--The City added a ban on CBPA members who have demonstrated a bias for or against the police. This broad ban could be used to exclude anyone who has ever criticized police misconduct or who ever posted their support for police on social media. A similar provision led to litigation and ultimately changed language in Boulder, CO. PAC had already put in language requiring Board members to be fair and impartial which should suffice.

--The City, in their recommendation, decided the Chief of Police shouldn't be held accountable by the police accountability system but only by the Mayor. This is in part because the broader City Charter will change in 2025, retaining the Mayor's ability to hire and fire the Chief. The Mayor should be able to fire the Chief for poor performance, but the oversight board charter language says the CBPA will have jurisdiction to discipline all officers and their supervisors. So unless the Chief is not a supervisor, the Board should have jurisdiction.

At the end of the November hearing, the City Attorney agreed to meet with the former PAC members to discuss the City's recommendations and Mayor Wheeler said he is willing to "have an open mind" about any changes the Attorney might recommend.

The meeting with the City Attorney occurred on December 4. Former PAC members prepared 19 questions and 11 top concerns. Though the event was created at PAC's request, other community input led to time running out with just 17 items addressed. The City expressed legalistic reasons, including fear of being sued, for decimating PAC's plan. The Attorney gave conflicting opinions, saying it would be easy for the Board to ask Council to expand its jurisdiction, but that putting too many details in the code would make it hard for Council to fix later. They seemed proud for "adding" force to the Board's scope of authority, though PAC explicitly envisioned any complaint involving a community member would be covered. Despite not finishing the discussion, the City refused the PAC members' request for a second meeting.

Once it is finalized, the City's proposal will go to the DOJ for review to comply with the 2012 Settlement Agreement and can either be sent back for revision or approval. The City also will bargain parts of the proposal with the police "unions." If approved, the new police accountability system might begin as early as mid-2024, nearly four years after the ballot measure was passed.

On December 12, the Portland Police Association released a poll asking biased and unfounded questions about the PAC's plan, telling Oregonlive that if City Council doesn't put the oversight system back on the ballot, they will gather signatures to do so.

Find a comparison of the PAC's plan to the City's at portlandcopwatch.org/compare_pac_city.pdf.

*1- former PAC member Faythe Aiken used this word in her testimony on November 15.
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*2- the City has missed countless deadlines for the DOJ, including taking nearly an extra year to hire a civilian training "dean." It's unlikely that waiting longer would lead to any consequences. Plus, since it's an Agreement, the City must have signed off on that timeline.
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  [People's Police Report]

January, 2024
Also in PPR #91

Community Oversight Plan Dismantled by City
DOJ Agreement 1/2 Terminated, Court Monitor OKd
Police Violence Costs the City Another $371,000+
 • "Union" Pays Former Commissioner $680K for False Claims
PPB Kills Third Person in 2023
 • Man in Mental Health Crisis Dies in Milwaukie Cops' Custody
State Police Deadly Force Down from 42 to 30+
 • More News: D.Clark, DEA/Qualified Immunity, CW Graphic
Review Committee Loses Five Members, Gains One
IPR Annual Report Adds Some Detail, Omits Others
Criminalization of Homelessness on Hold
Medford Police Continue Spying on Activists
 • Mohammed Mohamud Loses Appeal Bid
Chief Lovell Steps Down, Bob Day Takes Over
Deputies Indicted: Jail Deaths, Off-Duty Fight
Profiling Data Discussed at Two Public Meetings
Training Council Delays Force Data Presentations
Car Crashes Spotlit in Comments on Police Policies
State Discipline Rules Updated at Iffy Meetings
Still No Deadly Force in Review Board Report
Updates PPR #91:
 • Council Approves Body Cameras as Pilot Ends Without Data
 • Drone Use Slowly Creeping Up Month by Month

Rapping Back #91

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

People's Police Report #91 Table of Contents
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