The legal drama over police reform in Portland isn't quite over yet.
Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Amanda Fritz are going to ask their colleagues to consider pushing back at one of the more contentious elements of a federal judge's decision to accept a package of police reforms negotiated between the city and the federal Department of Justice: an order that the city and feds, along with the Portland Police Association and community advocates return to court for annual updates.
They're seeking a vote during next week's council meeting, according to a resolution (pdf) obtained by the Mercury. The announcement was reported this morning by the Oregonian, although it was cast as a move to toss out the requirement for updates. Both elected officials say they're addressing only the requirement for the updates, not the reforms themselves. Hales and Fritz, in an announcement, insist they want to "clarify" what US District Court Judge Michael Simon's role in overseeing the progress of reform might be.
“This appeal does not challenge the settlement that four stakeholders—the U.S. Department of Justice, the City, Portland Police Association, and Albina Ministerial Alliance—agreed to," Hales said in comments emailed to the Mercury. "The City and the Police Bureau are fully committed to the reforms outlined in the settlement agreement. Chief Mike Reese, our next chief Larry O’Dea, and the entire bureau remain dedicated to continually improving the service our police officers deliver to the community. This resolution authorizes a narrow appeal to clarify the judge’s role in the implementation. We all want to move forward, get out of court and get to work.”
"It clearly identifies that the Council is directly responsible for oversight, which ensures that Portlanders know who is responsible and accountable for managing the Police Bureau in conformance with the community’s values," Fritz is quoted as saying in the city's announcement. "The settlement emphasizes community engagement. I believe that public trust in policing in Portland depends on all Council members demonstrating that we are committed to implementing the Agreement fully. I accept that responsibility. I look forward to collaborating with all Portlanders on this crucial work, especially those with lived experience enduring mental illnesses.”
The possibility of an appeal has always loomed over Simon's ruling, issued August 29, as first reported by the Mercury. The city had long chafed at Simon's insistence on regular updates, concerned about the implications of that extra oversight and questioning Simon's authority, even though the feds and the Albina Ministerial Alliance both agreed Simon could order them if he wished.
Hales' office pointedly didn't respond to our questions, after the ruling came down, on whether an appeal might come or if the city would knuckle under to Simon's insistence.
Not everyone sees this as a modest bump on the road to an otherwise cheery acceptance of the reforms, which are meant to answer federal accusations Portland officers have engaged in a pattern or practice of using force against Portlanders with mental illness.
One advocate, Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland—who's been critical of Hales' decision not to try funding mental health facilities called for in the federal settlement along with the city's process for hiring a compliance officer/community liaison to oversee reforms—issued a blistering statement this morning. Renaud was responding to the O's reporting.
Mayor Hales has taken every opportunity to delay, diminish and disregard the settlement agreement in DOJ v City of Portland. Today's proposal to council to appeal Judge Simon's modest requirement for annual reporting on progress of the settlement to the court should be rejected by Council members. Persons with mental illness have been admittedly harmed by Portland's police and after three years of dawdling there is still no independent assurance anything has changed.
Without timely redress, justice is again effectively denied.
The full announcement by Hales and Fritz is here (pdf).