PAUL DE MUNIZ could be called the linchpin of Portland police reform.
A former head of the Oregon Supreme Court and one of the state's most respected voices on justice issues, De Muniz serves as an ear to the streets. He's the crucial anchor for a team of national researchers charged with listening to Portlanders' concerns about cops and offering frank, potentially unwelcome reports that might reshape the Portland Police Bureau.
So where is the former justice headquartered for this brashly independent role? Right next to the very police he's supposed to be hearing complaints about.
Roughly a month ago, De Muniz quietly relocated his office from an East Portland community center to the same East Burnside building that houses traffic cops and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement's crime prevention staff. City officials promise the situation is temporary, and De Muniz is holding meetings with community members outside the city building.
But there does not appear to be an active search underway to find him new digs. What's more, those watching Portland's police reform process complain the move was never announced. They worry De Muniz's current office sends a signal to the community that contradicts the independence he's supposed to represent.
"Given the scope of work and the level of distrust of the police bureau, I think it is a very grievous and grave mistake," says Dr. T. Allen Bethel, co-chair of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform. "There are plenty of other places he could have gained a temporary space."
It's hard to overstate De Muniz's importance to Portland's ongoing police reform efforts, which sprang from a 2014 settlement with the US Department of Justice over cops' use of force against mentally ill Portlanders. When city council decided last year, against some advocates' wishes, to bring in Chicago researchers to oversee the police bureau's progress under that settlement, they cited De Muniz's involvement as the deciding factor. While University of Illinois at Chicago professor Dennis Rosenbaum is technically the leader of the "compliance officer/community liaison" (COCL) team, De Muniz is its local face.
"I believe in the voice of the community," De Muniz told city commissioners at a November hearing. "I'm going to dedicate myself in this process to make sure that the community voices are heard."
What's more, De Muniz is the chair of the Community Oversight Advisory Board, a citizen panel that will scrutinize cops' progress along with the research team, helping to ensure police meet the particulars of the settlement with the feds.
De Muniz and his colleagues have said they'd insist on autonomy in these roles—a fact that showed through in an ordinance city council passed in late January.
"The COCL... requires office space which is not in a city building," the ordinance read. It specified that a community center called the Rosewood Initiative, at SE 161st and Stark, would serve as De Muniz's home base.
But De Muniz now says the center didn't meet his needs.
"They couldn't get my computer hooked up," he tells the Mercury. "I kept pushing the city. Finally I said, 'I've gotta do work.'"
De Muniz says he's been in his new office, at the corner of E Burnside and 47th, for around a month, but that he's rarely there. "I'm out talking to people."
The former judge works in Salem, but a contract Portland officials signed with Rosenbaum, De Muniz, and several other researchers dictates De Muniz is supposed to be in Portland two or three days a week until July, and once a week after that. According to a public calendar posted on the city's website, he was in his Portland offices nine times between February 23 and March 16. In that time he also met with two police officials and Commissioner Steve Novick, attended two community forums, and spent time meeting with the public at the Rosewood Initiative and two other locations.
No one questions the former judge's abilities or commitment to his job. Plenty of people question his move to a police building.
"It gives the impression that the COCL is linked to the police," says Tom Steenson, a Portland attorney who's serving on the community board De Muniz chairs. "It's a very bad idea."
Jo Ann Hardesty, a frequent police critic and president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, worries the offices make De Muniz less accessible.
"If he's working out of a police bureau now, he's certainly not seen as a grassroots person," she says. "People don't go to the police precinct."
And Bethel, pastor at Northeast Portland's Maranatha Church, says the explanation of De Muniz's office being temporary doesn't cut it.
"That's one of the most lame-duck excuses anyone can make," he says. "Temporary needs to end today."
Not everyone's alarmed. Avel Gordly, a former state senator and another member of the community oversight board, understands the criticisms. But she doesn't agree.
"He's putting in a lot more time than the days and hours prescribed," says Gordly. "It's a temporary situation that will be remedied as quickly as he can make it happen."
It's actually unclear who's supposed to be finding De Muniz a new space.
"The city is going to have to deal with it," he told the Mercury on March 12.
But the mayor's office, overseeing the contract with De Muniz and his colleagues, suggests that's not the case. Mayoral staffer Deanna Wesson-Mitchell says the COCL team can name its own space.
"It's up to him," she says. "Our job is to make sure they have what they need."
She also thinks De Muniz might want to hold off on a move until the oversight process is completely off the ground. "Moving again might be a lot [to take on]," Wesson-Mitchell says.
Whatever the case, one thing's certain: When the move comes, De Muniz won't lack for assistance.
"I'll help him move," says Community Oversight Advisory Board member Steenson. "My back's in good shape."