Not surprisingly, the twin issues of police accountability and community policing dominated the discussion, with each candidate--Nick Fish and Sam Adams for city council, Tom Potter and Jim Francesconi for mayor--providing specifics (or not) on how they would attempt to further integrate the role of police officers into community activities.
As a former member of the police force for three decades, including a 27-month stint as its head, Potter was in a lofty position to speak directly about "community policing"--a concept that he helped push forward during his tenure. Yet in spite of this advantage, he failed to quiet criticisms that he falls short on specifics.
When asked to give one idea to increase police officers' involvement in neighborhood association meetings, Potter would only say that the culture of the police force needs to change. Officers will only get out of their cars, he said, "if they want to or have to," adding, "the ones who want to are a blessing; the ones who don't are more of a challenge." He didn't elaborate further.
City council hopeful Fish, on the other hand, addressed the problem of the force's 4-10 shift system in which officers work four 10-hour shifts per week--a schedule that does not easily correspond to community meeting times. To change that, he said, the city needs to talk to the police union about modifying work rules to be more flexible with the officer's shifts.
Adams, who has emerged from the previous two "You Promised!" forums as the audience favorite, seemed off his game last Thursday. He showed up 20 minutes late and lacked his usual vigor. Even so, Adams had enough energy and focus to engage in a few cat fights with Fish. At one point, Fish pointed out that Adams had raised more campaign contributions and had a Rolodesk that any politician would be envious of (yet still was losing to Fish). Adams snapped back that Fish also could have a full Rolodesk if he saved phone numbers and remembered names better.
Francesconi pledged to hire 30 more officers within his first 100 days in office and to make community involvement a part of officers' job description and performance reviews.
"It's basic management we're not employing," he said.
With the arrival of the independent review board's third anniversary, both mayoral candidates are supporting an outside audit of the review system. Potter said mediation should be used to resolve disputes between citizens and officers, citing a statistic that 85 percent of cops and community members have been satisfied with the mediation process.
Francesconi added that the citizen board should have the authority to review tort claims and be involved in investigating police shootings.
One of Potter's five promises is to "take a tough stand on meth labs/drug houses and gangs" with the long-term goal of eliminating the demand for drugs. But when asked for a specific plan to reduce the city's demand for meth, he said the changes would have to come from a groundswell of community support, not from the mayor's office. True to his campaign strategy, he said he'd go to the community for direction.
"In the long run, we need to change how we let kids join gangs," he said, by building "strong families, stable houses, and better education."
Francesconi challenged him directly, pointing to his own involvement in the city's gang summits and finding work for a handful of at-risk youths with the Parks and Transportation bureaus--some of which have led to union apprenticeships. The point, he said, is that the city can't wait for an intangible community groundswell and needs the power of the mayor's office to facilitate change.
During the March primary, voters knew little about Potter except for his staunch refusal of campaign contributions over $25. Potter has used that issue to paint Francesconi as being in the pocket of local business interests. Francesconi has become defensive over the portrayal, telling the "You Promised!" audience that he has treated his political contributions with integrity. He ticked off a list of donors whose interests he's since voted against.
Francesconi was the only candidate who has opposed Commissioner Erik Sten and auditor Gary Blackmer's Clean Money proposal, which would use city money to fund local political campaigns. Because the estimated $1.4 million would come out of funding for fire, police and parks, he said he'd send the issue to the voters instead of discussing it among the council.
"In the past year, I've heard a lot about the need for campaign finance reform, but I have not heard from my opponent any specifics... about how to improve the community," Francesconi said.
awards podium with audience comments
GOLD MEDAL: FRANCESCONI
Editorial Comments: Most improved and strongest ideas
Comments from the peanut gallery: "Francesconi offered specific responses to the questions, as opposed to Potter"; "Francesconi looks like he's been working on his acting ability"; "At least he didn't throw his pen in church"; "Kind of slimy"; "Francesconi was cool and calm, and offered good ideas. His best showing yet."; "I can't believe I'm saying this... but I'm voting for Francesconi."
SILVER MEDAL: NICK FISH
Peanut Gallery: "At this forum, Nick Fish won by a hair"; "Both city council candidates still seem too similar. Too close to call"; "Sam has definitely been around longer, but Nick seemed more sincere"; "I want to get drunk with Nick, but I don't want him running the city"; "He's kind of a nitpicker (specifically when he abstained from the 'kiss it or diss it' question about drug testing after police shootings)"; "goofy but intelligent"; "He should lay off the cough syrup."
BRONZE MEDAL: TIE BETWEEN POTTER AND ADAMS
Comments about Adams: "Sam edged Nick out"; "He's never surprised by a question"; "Smart guy"; "He seemed kind of drowsy tonight"; "Definitely off his game."
Comments about Potter: "I'm leaning toward Potter. The issues he spoke about resonated with me"; "For mayor, I'm undecided, but nothing could be worse than Katz"; "I wasn't impressed with Potter's platitudes. For example, he said the way to get rid of meth was to build stronger families. Okay, so how do you 'build a stronger family'?"; "For somebody that was once the police chief, you'd think Potter would have some concrete ideas on the subject"; "At least Potter showed a heartbeat tonight"; "Potter didn't allow himself to stoop to Jim's level"; "I still have zero idea what he would do with the city."
Promises for livability and police accountability
-- Support complete and thorough independent review of police training, including use of deadly force and conflict resolution skills.
-- Lobby for a change in state law to permit the disclosure of grand jury testimony in officer-involved shootings once grand jury proceedings are concluded.
-- Make public safety a priority by filling the vacancies in the Police Bureau and restoring funding for gang task force.
-- Give grants to neighbors who get together a bright idea for improving the livability of their community.
-- Dedicate 20% of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for affordable and low-income housing, and push for statutory change to allow these affordable housing resources to be spent outside of the urban renewal areas.
-- Staff up, rebuild, and integrate local law enforcement.
-- Audit city's independent police review board system.
-- Create "top 10" list of community policing projects in each neighborhood.
-- Build trust between community and police by using mediators when necessary.
-- Equal out levels of services for each neighborhood.
-- Create after-school program with art, music, sports, and homework help in every school that needs one.
-- Make community policing real in our neighborhoods. (i.e., hire 30 new officers to build problem-solving relationships with neighbors.)
-- Increase the number of bike commuters by improving the safety of our streets and bikeways.
-- Shift PDC focus to support small, neighborhood businesses; immediately double the number of storefront loans and support the creation of local business improvement districts.
-- House more low-income and homeless Portlanders.
-- Bring back community policing by working with the police chief to rebuild trust and respect between the Bureau and our citizens.
-- Institute accountability within the Police Bureau's culture at every step, from the hiring process to resolving citizen complaints.
-- Take a tough stand on meth labs/drug houses and gangs to keep our neighborhoods safe and livable.
-- Use the knowledge we gained in developing the westside of the river as we plan eastside developments.
-- Restore Neighborhood Needs Assessment Reports to the ONI system, involving citizens in the budgeting process and empowering them to find solutions that work. This includes restoring neighborhood grants that are controlled by the community.