Local authority engages in patterns and practices of refuting public involvement, as it fails to hold police accountable. That public is becoming wiser to the need for a community-wide response to lapses in civil rights protections. We have what it takes to do this job.
Demands for police reform have gone on for so long that a sizable portion of informed Portlanders have a grasp on issues not included in the City’s plea deal to avoid Federal trial for Constitutional violations. Areas of expertise include psychological evaluation services, training, capacity to sit on police advisory boards and an intelligent replacement of our ‘self-defeating accountability system.’ (As depicted by DoJ investigators, pg. 27 of Findings.) There’s an impressive body of knowledge out there, and it now draws from mainstream folks. They work in – and lead – our local corporations. They participate in professional trade associations. They represent a valuable, untapped commodity.
Just as the City implements a Federal mandate, calling civic volunteers to commit to at least two years’ service on a Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB), current office holders convey they’ll continue to tamp down public involvement.*
The City announced this week they’ll enter talks to offer a $240,000 annual contract to a Chicago-based firm, to act as Portland’s community liaison, in overseeing the Federal plea deal.
Commissioners convened a citizen advisory panel (see right) to vet Compliance Officer Community Liaison (COCL) candidates. JoAnn Hardesty helped certify an initial twelve candidates were qualified, and sat in on public interviews. The group responsible for winnowing finalists did not forward Rosenbaum’s Chicago group for final recommendation. Council ignored community input they themselves sought: they instead favored a COCL devoid of local relationships and insulated by distance. City Council is telegraphing to those now contemplating service on the COAB: local politicians will do whatever they can to minimize or stymie public involvement.
Recognizing that committed volunteers had recommended against employing out-of-town data analysts – to receive our community’s concerns – City insiders inserted the esteemed retired Judge DeMuniz (in Salem) as a front man for the Chicago package. We consider this a disingenuous act, aimed only to alter appearances. Elitist in stature, DeMuniz’ chambers have long been closed to the general public. As Jo Ann asked in her recent Voices from the Edge broadcast, “When was the last time His Honor appeared at an event that he wasn’t the keynote speaker?”
Victims and justice advocates, along with the above community resources, would perform better if granted local access, guided by those with a history of outreach, deep into the hurly burly of broad community.
Last month, public testimony was unanimous in opposition to City Council plans to evade or diminish Federal judicial oversight. The City wants to disallow annual, public testimony on their progress in restoring our civil rights. For years, local chapters of the National Lawyers Guild, ACLU, League of Women Voters, as well as Portland Copwatch, Mental Health Association of Portland, Albina Ministerial Alliance for Justice and Police Reform, Individuals for Justice and others have trundled down to City Hall to give 180 seconds of testimony … only to find Council does not deliberate. It merely rubber-stamps legislation negotiated beforehand, behind closed doors, among those with real power.
From a recent press release:
“The AMA Coalition for Justice and Police Reform now seriously questions the City’s resolve to implement the DOJ Agreement to reduce Portland Police Use of Force. Just two weeks after defying the unanimous voices of community members who urged you not to file an appeal of Judge Simon’s annual hearings, Council announced that it would, despite the advice of your appointed citizen advisory committee, choose the one applicant for the Compliance Officer position that advisory committee rejected.”
The City allows police to pre-screen those who serve on the Police Community Relations Committee, the Auditor’s Citizen Review Committee and the police Training Advisory Council. In these two recent overrides of public sentiment, we realize the City continues to insulate itself from public participation … administration after administration.
Local authority lacks faith in The People who, we believe, are ultimately responsible to ensure the Constitution is in force. To draw from broad public involvement is likely to replace the ‘Independent’ Police Review Division with an intelligently designed means to actually investigate police misconduct and impose discipline.
*Perhaps the most egregious refutation of deep, public involvement occurred in 2000. Mayor Vera Katz asked community members (see left, including Jo Ann, serving as a member of the African American Police Advisory Council) to evaluate the effectiveness of our troubled Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC). The work group spent long hours, examining the police accountability structure for strengths and weakness, collecting citizen input, and studying citizen review processes in other jurisdictions. Prior to the release of their report, Katz commissioned this, unsigned Minority Report, from which the Auditor fashioned our current ‘Independent’ Police Review Division … initially presented as a temporary fix.
Those who read the Work Group’s Majority Report will appreciate that the community has long been advocating for specific reforms. It describes efforts as far back as 1982.
CALL TO ACTION: Though you may find it counter-intuitive, we’re asking folks to contact Portland City Council. Demand they withdraw from negotiations with a Chicago-based organization. We know a team with local resources can better engage a talented group of people. Together, we can do what it takes to bring about comprehensive police reform.