Mayor Charlie Hales is on the way to delivering on what had been a stalled and somewhat troubled police accountability promise under his predecessor: a dramatic reorientation of the psychological vetting the Portland Police Bureau relies on for screening applicants, and current cops, who might be prone to violence or racial bias or are otherwise unfit for duty.
At Hales' prompting, the police bureau this morning announced it was seeking résumés for two separate psychological contracts—one to work with recruits and another to work with current cops. Further, the bureau will be conducting a national search to fill the positions and working hand-in-hand with community groups in hopes of reaching a diverse pool of applicants who either are deeply familiar with "cultural competency" or have a plan to address how they'll get there.
"They're a little bit closer to doing this the right way at this point," says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. Handelman sits on the steering committee of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, the group that led the push for changes. "We'll see when the applications come through, and the interviews are done, how many people actually applied we whether have a growing sense of diversity."
The bureau's psychological vetting has been handled, for the past 13 years, by a lone white Lake Oswego psychologist named David Corey. Groups like the AMA and Copwatch have long raised questions about Corey and his work in light of police shootings and lingering concerns about racial bias in the bureau.
The AMA was especially rueful when, last year—despite promises its leadership would be closely consulted on recruitment the next time Corey's contract was up for renewal—the police bureau pushed ahead without the group's input. The bureau ultimately chose Corey again, after only one other applicant submitted.
Then-Mayor Sam Adams was forced to put the decision on hold after the AMA showed up to protest the contract vote at city council. Adams, citing the federal investigation that rapped the way our cops use force against the mentally ill, then asked for input on what psychological vetting should look like.
The effort simmered until February, when Hales' new public safety director, Baruti Artharee, started his job and began meeting with advocates about their concerns. After those meetings, Artharee and Hales decided to start the process anew. And without delay. Two weeks ago, he says, he gathered police officials, members of the AMA, and staffers in the bureau of human resources to work on a draft of the city's requests for applicants.
"The mayor weighed in on this when we met with the AMA at the end of march," Artharee told the Mercury this afternoon. "We decided we need to go back out and that we need to do broader outreach. And I really believe that anything short of that would not have been satisfactory to Copwatch or the AMA nor to our own personal satisfaction."
Artharee did allow that it's possible one person, potentially Corey, could still win both contracts. (He also said he's encouraged to hear that Corey's hired an African-American woman to work with him. "That's wonderful," he says.) But Artharee said supplemental questions attached to the job notices, including one that focuses on "cultural competency," should make clear who's a good contender and who isn't.
"We're also curious to see if there are women or people of color who are already doing this work," he says. "Or if there are psychologists who already have these relationships in place. We want the chance to evaluate that."
Artharee also pointed out a bit of legal sleight of hand by the city: By asking for résumés—and not "proposals" or "qualifications," which typically apply for tangible goods and are governed by byzantine rules—the city is freer to let advocates comment on and help select potential applicants.
"It allows us a little bit more flexibility," he says, "to factor in concerns from the community."