EIGHT MONTHS after reaching a tentative pact with the US Department of Justice over police reform—but with still more than a year to go before a judge signs off on something final—Portland City Council is finally moving ahead with one of the loose ends hovering over the deal: hiring an independent civilian referee.
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz—asked by Mayor Charlie Hales to help work on police reform—tells the Mercury her "goal" is to have a DOJ-required compliance officer hired by the end of the year.
And next Wednesday, August 7, she'll ask the council to vote on the first step of her self-described "unusual" plan to help make that so. In short, she wants to waive the city's usual contract process—in favor of a widespread call for résumés that a special citizens' committee would help vet. That would come on top of what the feds already demand: having the council select three finalists who must submit to public questioning.
"We need to move with due speed and due process," says Fritz. "Given the history of this issue, over decades, I firmly believe it's imperative to take time to get things right."
Fritz previewed her proposed timeline last Wednesday, July 24, during a city council vote on a side agreement on police reform with the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform (AMA). That agreement gives the AMA a direct role in choosing not only the compliance officer, but also some of the members of a federally mandated community advisory board.
But almost as soon as she broached the subject, she faced some modest pushback. Commissioner Dan Saltzman moaned that he'd hoped to have a compliance officer hired by mid-September—far sooner than Fritz and Hales had contemplated. When Fritz pointed out that national searches take time, Saltzman thundered back: "It seems like we're not moving as fast as we should."
The dustup ended when Jo Ann Hardesty, a former state legislator and a member of the AMA's steering committee, testified that Saltzman was missing the point.
"I appreciate taking the time to get someone who can work with police, but also has expertise working with community members," Hardesty said. "You can't get that person in a couple of weeks. You've got to spend some time."
Still unknown, however, is who might serve on the résumé-vetting committee Fritz is hoping to draft. She envisions 10 to 15 members nominated by community groups including the AMA, the League of Women Voters, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
But given that the reforms are supposed to settle accusations that Portland police routinely use unconstitutional excessive force against people with mental illness—and not, necessarily, accusations that cops treat people of color differently—other advocates will be watching the city's selections warily.
Their question: Will mental health advocates be sufficiently included?
"There have been a lot of people who want to misdirect the intentions of the DOJ," says Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland. "The idea is, 'Nothing about us without us.'"