Tim Hanlon
Last week, police accountability activists were absolutely giddy over the news that Richard Rosenthal, the director for the Independent Police Review (IPR), may be packing his bags and moving on to Denver (where Rosenthal made the shortlist of candidates to head a similar police oversight committee).

Since its inception three years ago, the IPR has been an insult to activists. The organization was put in place after the former oversight committee was dismantled. For nearly a decade, citizens had complained that the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee (PIIAC) was merely rubberstamping police reports and turning a deaf ear to citizens' complaints.

In January 2002, city council finally adopted a new plan for police oversight and set in place the IPR and, as a component of the IPR, the Citizen Review Committee. At the time, Rosenthal was hired as the director. Previously, Rosenthal had served as a District Attorney in Los Angeles, which from the get-go raised the hackles of activists.

In spite of promises for more accountability, say critics, the IPR has repeated the mistakes of the past. In theory, the organization referees disputes between cops and citizens who feel wronged by the system. But instead, the IPR has swept virtually all complaints under the rug. Disgusted with the ineffectiveness of the system, the majority of CRC volunteers quit two years ago; in parting, they called the system a "sham" and a "shame."

Most have pointed their fingers at Rosenthal for the IPR and CRC's impotency. Activists complained that Rosenthal is too buddy-buddy with the police, the very people he is charged with monitoring. They also claim he has stonewalled attempts to bring attention to police abuses.

The postings on IndyMedia were crystal clear in their opinions regarding Rosenthal. "Rosenthal sucks. He's rude. He's biased. He's a cop apologist who has absolutely no business heading a police accountability administrative agency," read one posting.

"Encourage him to move on! The Kroeker-era is over," another read, referring to the former unpopular police chief. Some called Rosenthal's potential departure the final act in a "regime change" at the police bureau, which not only recently installed a more affable chief, Derrick Foxworth, but has also seen the switch from Katz to Tom Potter. Katz was routinely criticized as automatically siding with police, no matter how egregious the accusation of brutality. Two years ago, when members of the CRC testified at city council about the oversight committee's ineffectiveness, she gaveled them into silence. Conversely, Potter has made constant pledges for more "community policing."

"Rosenthal's got a good nose for political winds," insists Alan Graf, an attorney with the Northwest Constitutional Center. "Now, with Katz gone, his political cover is gone and he doesn't want to be the Mo Cheeks of city hall," referring to the Blazers' recently canned coach.

But if Rosenthal secures the job in Denver activists may have to face far more profound questions about IPR: That it may be flawed because of systemic problems--not because of its stubborn, law-and-order director.

In an interview with the Mercury, Rosenthal was steadfast about his accomplishments in helping overhaul IPR and for bringing more independence to the oversight committee. Rosenthal also denied he was turning tail and leaving town because of political pressure.

Originally, Rosenthal said, he had been asked to be part of the selection committee for Denver's new director. But then city officials there asked him to consider being a candidate. At first he said "no," but later reconsidered.

"The salary here [in Portland] tops at $92,000," Rosenthal explained. "They're offering $119,000."

Rosenthal went on to explain that Denver faces many of the same challenges as Portland--there's about one police shooting each year; the city has an oversight committee that's currently undergoing changes; and, yes, he admitted, it has an active activist community.

Rosenthal is visiting Denver this week with his family to determine whether they'd like to relocate. The mayor's office and city auditor, who would ultimately hire the next IPR director, had no word on candidates to fill the position if Rosenthal leaves.