MAYOR TOM POTTER's racial profiling committee met for the last time last week, leaving some members frustrated about a perceived lack of progress over two years, and throwing the future of the committee's work into uncertainty.
Committee Co-Chair Jo Ann Bowman, executive director of Oregon Action, stormed out of the meeting prematurely last Thursday, November 20, saying she felt "disrespected" by the way her concerns about transitioning the committee's work had allegedly been ignored by the police bureau and the mayor's office.
The committee's work will now be taken on by two workgroups inside the police bureau, one intended to address the so-called "hit rate" statistic—which has found that African Americans and Latinos are pulled over more often by police, but less likely to have contraband—and another to address "professionalism and standards" by cops, with a view toward creating a "customer service culture" in the bureau.
Both workgroups will be closed to the public, with Police Chief Rosie Sizer telling the committee last week that she feels certain "frank conversations" about issues like racial profiling are best held behind closed doors. Sizer declined comment for this story. Her long-delayed plan to address racial profiling in the bureau is now expected to be presented back to council in January.
A third part of the committee's work will be taken on by a "police and community relations" subcommittee of the mayor's newly established Human Rights Commission, which had its first meeting at city hall on November 5.
Bowman says the mayor's office and the police bureau did not consult her on the future of the racial profiling committee's work, and says she has transparency concerns about taking much of it inside the police bureau.
"If you're really doing all this great stuff, why can't we see it?" Bowman said later, to the Mercury.
She also wonders whether the Human Rights Commission is going to be qualified to address racial profiling.
"What makes anybody think that starting with a brand-new group of people is going to make this any easier?" she asks. "I think [the mayor's office and the police bureau] only want to work with people who want to do the warm and cuddly things.
"This is a total slap in the face to a community that's invested two years into this work to eliminate racial profiling," she continues. "I am blown away by the arrogance."
Bowman says she feels the mayor's office has "worked out a deal" with Police Chief Rosie Sizer to "make her job easier," and is also concerned that the mayor's office allegedly reallocated $200,000 set aside for the racial profiling committee by the mayor in April.
"A mayoral staffer told me the mayor's chief of staff had reallocated money set aside for us to organize a conference on racial profiling because 'the racial profiling committee wasn't doing anything,'" Bowman says. "That money seems to have just disappeared."
The mayor's office says the money was never allocated to the committee, but that Bowman had been hoping to secure funding to put on the conference, and it never worked out. The total spent on the commission from 2006 to present has been $87,510.
The mayor's public safety policy manager, Maria Rubio, also says Bowman has met several times with Maria Lisa Johnson, director of the mayor's Human Rights Commission, to discuss the transition of the work. Rubio says the commission has always understood it would incorporate the work of the racial profiling committee into its priorities.
"The racial profiling work is not dead," she says. "It is in transition to a permanent place within city government. It is no longer an ad hoc committee."
Johnson, who was appointed director of the Human Rights Commission by the mayor in April, is confident the work of the committee will continue. "I think the racial profiling committee achieved some important work, but this second level will allow us to do deeper work with other folks who are experienced with systemic change," says Johnson. "The racial profiling committee achieved what it could. I want to acknowledge that [Bowman] may not agree with all the ways that this is moving forward."
Johnson says she presented to the committee on the future of its work back in September, and in response to Bowman's transparency concerns, she says all three workgroups will report back to council and the public on their progress periodically. She echoes Sizer's point about being able to have "more in-depth and more honest conversations" on the issue behind closed doors.