The War Within 

Will Political Infighting Kill Police Watchdogs?

by Erin Ergenbright

Ever since the creation of the Citizen Review Committee (CRC) two years ago, there has been a near-constant struggle with the Independent Police Review (IPR) for the upper hand in matters of police accountability. CRC is filled with citizens, while IPR is staffed with city employees--a distinction some believe neuters IPR's willingness to criticize the police or rock the boat when necessary.

Over the past month, that struggle has reached a fever pitch. At a public forum last month, CRC member T.J. Browning vented her frustration with what she sees as a lack of independence from city hall and an ability to truly dig into complaints about police misconduct. She said she felt like part of a sham. "If you want to call [CRC] a bureaucracy within city hall, then please call it that," she exclaimed. "I suggest strongly that the will of city hall is not to empower us to do our job."

In an attempt to overcome this helplessness, last month CRC members voted to award themselves the power to fill committee vacancies. But city council reacted quickly and voted unanimously to strip away such decision-making authority. In turn, they handed sole control of the board's appointments to City Auditor Gary Blackmer, who oversees IPR.

But although the infighting may be distracting both committees from their true purpose, some contend there may be long-term payoffs for police accountability. Dave Mazza, editor of The Alliance, believes the constant bickering may help justify a need for a completely independent police oversight group. During the last round of elections and ballot measures, Mazza helped spearhead a voter initiative to do just that. But the measure failed to make the ballot when the city's election committee contested the measure's signature count.

"The IPR is destined to fail," asserts Mazza. "And the CRC will fail because of what Blackmer and [IPR Director Richard] Rosenthal are doing to it--turning it into a meaningless panel of cop supporters."

"Portland is great at giving the appearance of citizen involvement," adds Mazza. Currently, Mazza says attorneys are tinkering with the language for another a citizen police watchdog group initiative.

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