Illustration by Ryan Alexander-Tanner

FOUR MONTHS AFTER she first screwed up her courage and publicly confronted a police oversight system that had let her down—twisting her maternal outrage into a mighty cudgel—Latoya Harris is about to taste a bittersweet victory.

No, the officers who arrested and handcuffed her nine-year-old daughter in the spring of 2013 won't ever face discipline for their shockingly harsh handling of a girl who was predictably sullen—but never violent—when they showed up at her home in New Columbia to ask about a playground fight she'd been in several days before.

And, no, Harris and her daughter won't magically forget the stress and suffering that have haunted them since.

But Harris' daughter—because of her mother's bravery—hopefully will be Portland's last small child ripped away from her family by police officers way too willing to ignore the call of common sense.

Last Wednesday, August 6, Captain Dave Famous, in charge of the Portland Police Bureau's professional standards division, addressed the same police accountability panel Harris addressed in April. And he confirmed to that board, the Citizen Review Committee, that new policies banning the arrests of children in all but the most extreme cases are under final review by Police Chief Mike Reese.

And while the details may yet shift, Famous said one major point will not:

The new rules will explicitly limit arrests of children 12 and younger—a "bright line," Famous said. It'll be the same for fingerprinting, too.

Those rules also will spell out a high threshold for determining the kind of "rare occurrence" when that "bright line" might justifiably be crossed.

"For example, a juvenile with flailing limbs or breaking property may not pose a substantial threat, while a juvenile with flailing limbs, access to weapons, and the intent to harm self, others, animals, or members may pose a substantial threat," Famous wrote in notes shared with me after the meeting. "Discussion of such a standard through the directives process has been painstaking, viewed in the light most favorable to the juvenile."

Right now, nothing in the bureau's book of policy directives speaks to the proper handling of young children—making what Officers Matthew Huspek and David McCarthy did perfectly legal. That's why they didn't face discipline, even after Harris filed a complaint with the city's Independent Police Review (IPR) office thinking that they should.

It's important to give the police bureau credit for eventually coming around—acknowledging what's clearly a policy gap—and moving forward with so much alacrity once it did.

Harris has separately filed a tort claim over her daughter's arrest, and the city could have held out for a day in court before making changes.

"They are actually going to write a directive that goes further than what we recommended," says Mark McKechnie, director of legal advocacy group Youth, Rights, and Justice and one of the experts who helped advise the bureau on changes. 

But let's not forget something else: The bureau knew all of this before Harris came forward—and did nothing.

I was at that CRC meeting in April, stunned by what Harris had to say and insistent that we talk more over the next few days. I relayed Harris' tale in the Mercury the next week ["Arrested at Age Nine," News, April 16]—shocking juvenile justice advocates, horrifying parents, and raising eyebrows in city hall.

And that's when the bureau decided to do something. The actual arrest wasn't enough. Harris' complaint wasn't enough. Disdain from IPR wasn't enough. But we were. The people and our anger. And Harris' refusal to take no for an answer.