Hall Monitor 

Police Reforms Still a Tough Sell

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CONSTANTIN SEVERE, director of Portland's Independent Police Review Division (IPR), can't seem to make everyone happy—neither advocates nor the city's police unions—with an important package of police oversight reforms that even he admits are modest and incremental.

Not that he hasn't been trying.

After a near-disastrous October hearing on the proposals—where Police Chief Mike Reese very notably joined the chorus of opposition—Severe and his boss, City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade, spent weeks retooling the reforms and briefing city commissioners in hopes of sanding down what had been some fairly rough rhetorical edges.

Those efforts were mostly successful. Severe won over Reese while preserving the core of what he'd been proposing—enshrining IPR's right to directly interview cops in misconduct cases, while also shining fresh light on the chief's discipline decisions. And Mayor Charlie Hales, the city's police commissioner, seemed markedly more engaged when Severe brought the reforms back to city council for a second hearing in December.

But one thing became clear as that December hearing dragged on: For the proposals' biggest critics, nothing had changed.

Accountability advocates from Portland Copwatch and the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform actually thought the revisions were worse, calling them "watered down." Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association (PPA), also remained as steadfastly opposed as he was in October—even admitting he might file an unfair labor practice complaint.

"That could happen," Turner said when Commissioner Nick Fish asked if he might.

Hales and the council decided to hold off on a final vote until this Wednesday, January 8, with a suggestion that Severe huddle once more with advocates and Turner (not all together; the sun would explode if that happened) and find some middle ground with each. Severe tells me he's done that. He even called his talk with Turner and his lawyer, Anil Karia, "good."

And maybe it was. But neither Turner nor Portland Copwatch, in interviews and statements before this week's vote, were willing to change their respective tunes.

"I talked about us being disappointed that there wasn't more collaboration," Turner told me this week. "That's all that came from it." (Turner, sources note, had been briefed on the proposals last year.)

Dan Handelman of Copwatch, in a long email to city commissioners, continued his insistence that the council wait until a federal judge takes up the city's proposed settlement with the feds next month on accusations our cops use too much force against people with mental illness.

Severe and Griffin-Valade are ready to push ahead all the same. Severe says he gets that advocates want something even stronger than the reforms the feds are requiring—changes like a stronger civilian oversight process and civilian oversight of police shootings.

But he also says those are legislative questions for the mayor and council—and not for his shop. Not that he wouldn't welcome them.

"Some are afraid that, okay, on [January] 8, that's the end of the conversation," Severe says. "I don't think that's what it is. It's not the end of what reforms will be in this city."

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