THE RAP AGAINST Mary-Beth Baptista, the former prosecutor who runs the city's Independent Police Review office, goes something like this in certain police accountability circles:
Because she's had a decent working relationship with the Portland Police Bureau—gaining unprecedented access to behind-the-blue-wall training sessions and shooting briefings, among other things—she hasn't pushed the bureau on discipline and policy breaches as hard as activists would like.
That's always been a little harsh—the unfortunate byproduct of a job that requires maintaining at least a modicum of bonhomie with a police bureau that could deny her shop access just as easily as it grants it.
But now? It doesn't fit all.
Delighting even her most nagging critics, Baptista has sauntered right up to Police Chief Mike Reese and picked one of the biggest and most important fights of her tenure.
After vocally condemning Reese for quietly, privately demoting a lying captain whom the bureau's own Police Review Board overwhelmingly wanted to fire, Baptista has promised to pursue new legal language requiring chiefs to publicly spell out all discipline in future review board reports. And if that discipline ever differs from the review board's recommendation, the chief would also have to submit a public explanation.
Together, those tweaks would sensibly correct a glaring gap in the city's 2010 Police Review Board ordinance. But muscling the changes past Portland City Council will likely provoke a highly charged clash not only with the bureau but also with the Portland Police Association—newly relevant in city hall under Mayor Charlie Hales.
Baptista, to her credit, is clear on the principles at stake.
"The purpose of these reports is to show the community that the police bureau is holding people accountable," Baptista says. "If we don't know what the final discipline decision is, and what the reasons are for departing from those recommendations, then the community doesn't have that information.
"I don't see a strong argument against that from an oversight perspective, and I don't see a strong argument against that from a community perspective," she continues.
Reese's office, so far, is playing it cool—sticking to talking points about bureau policy that keeps all discipline confidential unless the district attorney's office decides otherwise. Which it sometimes does in high-profile cases that qualify for a "public interest" exemption.
"The chief might weigh in if there are proposed ordinance changes," says Sergeant Pete Simpson, when asked if Reese would actively oppose Baptista's suggestions. "But at this point, he relies on the current policies and collective bargaining agreements."
Curiously, though, Simpson wouldn't even say—generally, without getting into specifics—how often the chief's discipline differs from the review board's recommendation.
Baptista sits on the Police Review Board. She knows how the board votes. And she also knows—separately, because of her role as IPR director—what Reese decides. She also won't say how often the two diverge.
To be fair, they might not. But shouldn't the public know?
"The community has to be able to say somebody's off," she says. "Either it's the board. Or the chief."