IT WAS A PARTIAL victory for advocates crusading for an ever more vigorous system of police accountability in Portland.
Last Wednesday, November 30, at the end of a second hearing on two controversial reports that essentially sideline all but a few community-driven ideas for boosting civilian oversight of cops, Mayor Sam Adams relented on a small but important point.
Instead of moving forward with the reports as soon as possible—like this Thursday, December 8—Adams changed course and promised to wait before asking the city council to make a final decision, a good sign that they might be willing to consider a few more alterations. The reports would pave the way for those handful of revisions and updates to the city's oversight regimen.
It was all he could do. For two weeks in a row, a crush of activists from groups like Portland Copwatch, the League of Women Voters, the National Lawyers Guild, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Albina Ministerial Alliance for Justice and Police Reform, and even Occupy Portland, had loudly pressed their case.
Rightfully, they wanted to know why Adams, Police Chief Mike Reese, and Independent Police Review (IPR) Director Mary-Beth Baptista embraced only a handful of the reforms they'd been asking for, in some cases for years.
Their biggest concern? The reports reject a call to give new powers to the Citizen Review Committee (CRC), the civilian panel that handles appeals of misconduct cases. Advocates say it's imperative that CRC members win the right to review evidence in discipline cases and also to compel officers to testify, so they can "determine on their own whether an officer has violated policy."
Currently, if the CRC doesn't agree with the outcome of a case, it has to punt it back to the police bureau or IPR for further investigation, and has only an advisory role on setting discipline. Which is hardly the hallmark of a robust and engaged regimen of civilian authority.
That's not the only concern. As the Mercury first reported last month, Reese and Adams also rejected requests to drug-test cops who use deadly force. And the bureau has affirmed its current policies on using deadly force and less-lethal weapons—rebuffing suggestions to tighten them.
Taking some more time is a positive indication that Adams and commissioners like Amanda Fritz might be willing to bend on a few points. But truly tackling the big stuff? The real reason for resistance is that it would irritate the Portland Police Association, whose labor contract would need to be amended. The last time the city tried to buy the union off—winning random drug-testing and a nod on last year's initial round of IPR changes—it cost millions. This year, with a budget crisis, I guess we can't afford it.