DENNIS ROSENBAUM, one of the three finalists looking to oversee Portland's federally mandated police reforms over the next several years, offered city leaders something no other applicant could match.
Befitting his post as director of the Center for Research in Law and Justice, the Chicago-based professor mustered a nationally recognized team steeped not only in the drudgery of data analysis, but also in the ups and downs of policing and mental health issues.
But for all that expertise, Rosenbaum also found himself missing something both of his rivals could boast about. A citizen panel rightly complained that Rosenbaum's team, based thousands of miles away, would be flying in and out of Portland. No one local, and with heft, would have the reins on the ground.
That almost got Rosenbaum tossed by city leaders. Until, that is, a serious local anchor finally emerged.
Retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice Paul De Muniz, who was glancingly mentioned in Rosenbaum's application materials, met with city commissioners this month and promised he'd step up as the Portland front for Rosenbaum's band of wonks. That was good enough for the two officials leading the hiring process, Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Mayor Charlie Hales.
And now, on Wednesday, November 12, Portland City Council is expected to give Rosenbaum's team the chance to serve as Portland's "compliance officer/community liaison"—and do some intensely scrutinized work that pays $240,000 a year.
"I understand the fear and concern that experts from somewhere else might not have the grounding in Portland that's needed for this work," Mayor Charlie Hales told reporters when announcing, on Friday, November 7, that Rosenbaum had emerged as the favorite. "That's the critical importance of Paul De Muniz. He'll provide that link to the community, that deep understanding of Portland."
Hales and Fritz, in backing Rosenbaum and De Muniz, passed on two other finalists who fell short for various reasons. Local consultant John Campbell put together a sizable team of Portland-based experts, but wasn't seen as strong on mental health issues—important given that the US Department of Justice accused Portland police of engaging in a pattern or practice of using excessive force against people with mental illness.
Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission Executive Director Daniel Ward made perhaps the most compelling case on mental health of the three, having talked about his own history with depression. But he applied all on his own, without a team to help him do the work. He said he'd wait to find helpers until after he got the job.
That job, however, is not small.
Beyond overseeing special community board meetings and checking on the overall progress of reforms, the compliance officer must file regular reports and audit how cops are using force. It's enough that a deputy city attorney joked to city council that whoever got the job would probably always be in the midst of writing something.
Fritz told the Mercury she was "very impressed" with De Muniz, whom she and Commissioner Nick Fish interviewed on Tuesday, November 4. De Muniz, Fritz noted, was the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform's (AMA) choice to mediate disputes over the reform deal between the city, the AMA, the feds, and the Portland Police Association.
"What was persuasive was the depth of expertise in police accountability that the Chicago team brings," Fritz says. "The majority of the [compliance officer's] work is on police accountability—making sure what the police bureau says it's done has actually been done."
Wednesday's vote, however, will come with some criticism. Portland Copwatch, in a statement, said it spoke with activists in Chicago who questioned Rosenbaum’s role in that city’s police accountability movement. And both Copwatch and the AMA lamented Fritz and Hales’ willingness to defy the city’s selection panel.
"The city has already taken the stand that the community's input is not important," the AMA's co-chairs wrote.
—The Mercury's Dirk VanderHart contributed to this report.