The community volunteer board overseeing changes to the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) will go on a 60-day "recess," according to an a agreement recently ratified by the city and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ).
The hiatus is "to evaluate how to create a better process that fulfills the intention of community involvement in police accountability," the Mayor's office said today.
The Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB) was created following the DOJ's 2014 settlement agreement with the city after an investigation of PPB abuses and its treatment of mentally ill people. It's supposed to be 15 members who "independently assess implementation" of the settlement agreement, but it's been a mess recently, with contentious and disruptive meetings, with the group's desire to "divorce" the Chicago academics leading it and to seek an amendment to the agreement to restructure the group, and with COAB membership dropping below the eight-member threshold needed to have productive meetings. Members have dropped out and have yet to be replaced—only one of the five COAB members nominated by Portland City Council is still there, Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman pointed out today.
And now the COAB is closing up shop until October 20 so the city can "collaborate with stakeholders on how to strengthen the community engagement process" in the settlement agreement, wrote Portland City Attorney Tracy Reeves to the DOJ on Friday.
The DOJ agreed to the hiatus earlier in the day because of "recent difficulties inhibiting the proper functioning" of the COAB and, therefore, the city's compliance with the settlement agreement. "At the end of the sixty-day period," wrote Assistant United States Attorney Adrian Brown, "we anticipate an opportunity to review the city's proposal for conceptual amendments."
"I applaud the recess," wrote Kathleen Saadat — COAB chair from June 2015 to June 2016—in an email today. The issue of who will replace Saadat, and who who gets to make that decision, has been a big issue for the COAB recently. "This gives everyone a chance to give thought to what needs to be reconfigured/redesigned to help untangle the imbroglio of thoughts, feelings, policies, missteps, and good intentions surrounding this opportunity. It is of critical importance to maintain a vehicle that provides for input from a broad spectrum of Portland residents. At this point, that imperfect but still viable vehicle is the COAB."
Not everybody is pleased with the shutdown.
"I think it's a crock," said Handelman, who's been closely following Portland police accountability measures for years. "What the COAB needs is to be able to be reconstituted so they can focus on how to get their work done."
Handelman says City Council should replace the four members on the board that it hasn't yet replaced since they left in recent months so the COAB can have a quorum and hold productive meetings.
"But instead, they're putting [the meetings] on hold," he said. "They could have appointed new people immediately but instead they've worked out a deal with the DOJ to shut down the entire community voice from this process."
Handelman raises issue with the timing of the hiatus, which is set to expire in October just six days before the city and COAB's yearly presentation to a federal judge on the progress of the settlement agreement. He disagrees with the city saying it's going to meet with "stakeholders" while preventing the COAB from meeting.
"If they're on a hiatus for two months—where they're shutting down the office, not letting them have meetings of any kind—how are they supposed to prepare for an October 26 presentation to the judge if the next time they're allowed to meet is October 21?" Handelman asked. "What stakeholders are there with more to gain or lose than the board itself? Why not just have that stakeholder input occur at the regular meetings of the COAB? What stakeholders are they talking to that would not be at those meetings? Why stop them from having meetings all together?"
If you're interested in reading more, here's some behind-the-scenes communication from people involved with the COAB hiatus.
An August 19 letter from Assistant US Attorney Adrian Brown to Portland City Attorney Tracy Reeve:
Dear Ms. Reeve:
In light of the recent difficulties inhibiting the proper functioning of the Community Oversight Advisory Board and the City’s compliance with Section IX of the Settlement Agreement, we agree that a sixty-day recess of COAB meetings is warranted. During this time, the City will be in a position to evaluate the successes and failures of the community engagement and oversight provisions of the agreement. At the end of the sixty-day period, we anticipate an opportunity to review the City’s proposal for conceptual amendments.
The United States will not seek enforcement action against the City during this temporary break. The annual report may reflect the City’s noncompliance, with recognition of the difficulties associated with implementation.
Finally, throughout the next 60 days, we look forward to meeting periodically to share stakeholder input. We will work with you towards a proposal for modifications.
Please contact us with any questions.
Tracy Reeve's emailed response to Brown on Monday:
Thank you for your letter of August 19, 2016 agreeing that a sixty-day recess of COAB meetings is warranted given recent circumstances. We will assist the COCL in recessing all official COAB business for the next 60 days.
We have already begun to collaborate with stakeholders on how to strengthen the community engagement process. We anticipate that we will have a conceptual proposal for amendments to you by October 20, 2016. We look forward to working with you to develop any modifications to Section IX of the Settlement Agreement which are warranted to improve the community engagement process.
In the meantime, we are more than happy to have informal conversations to update you on the stakeholder input we are receiving. We do request that the City be afforded the opportunity to manage the outreach to stakeholders over the next 60 days to avoid any confusion in the community as to our respective roles.
We are extremely grateful for the collaborative relationship we enjoy with you and your colleagues as we continue our work to fully achieve the goals of the Settlement Agreement.
Mayor Charlie Hales' office's statement on the COAB recess:
Over the past several months, the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB), created as part of the City of Portland’s Settlement Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding police interactions with people in mental health crisis, has experienced a number of challenges to functioning effectively. There have been verbal attacks; concern for physical safety; and exclusions from public meetings. COAB is a volunteer board that requires a significant time commitment and several members have resigned. Additionally, remaining COAB members have recommended that the Settlement Agreement be amended to restructure the group. These factors are contributing to difficulties in complying with current legal requirements and organizational mandates.
“Community participation in the police reform process is essential for our Portland Police Bureau to be a productive, trusted community partner,” said Mayor Hales. “We still have a great deal of work to do in building trust and legitimacy within the community. I remain committed to finding a community engagement structure and process that works for all Portlanders.”
The City has already begun to collaborate with stakeholders on how to strengthen the community engagement process. In order to focus the City’s efforts to engage in meaningful discussions, the DOJ and the City have agreed to suspend COAB meetings for a 60-day period, and evaluate how to create a better process that fulfills the intention of community involvement in police accountability. In addition to specific stakeholder outreach, there is a community forum scheduled for Monday, September 12, 2016 at Maranatha Church 5:30 – 7:30 pm. Maranatha Church is located at 4222 NE 12th Avenue, Portland, Oregon. If you prefer to send email comments to the City please use this address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The City anticipates having a conceptual proposal for amendments to the Settlement Agreement by October 20, 2016.
An email to COAB members from the two Chicago-based academics in the COCL (Dennis Rosenbaum and Amy Watson) which, as of now, runs the COAB:
Dear COAB members;
We write to inform you that the City and DOJ have come to an agreement on a 60-day COAB recess (please see below and attached). During this period, the City will seek community stakeholder input in evaluating the community engagement and oversight provisions of the Settlement Agreement and propose and discuss amendments with the DOJ team with an eye toward strengthening the community engagement process.
During this period, there will be no full COAB, Executive or subcommittee meetings. Additionally, the COCL-COAB office will not be available, as staff will be detailed to other duties and not available to staff the office.
The COCL maintains that community input and engagement are critically important to the process of implementing the Settlement Agreement and reforming the Portland Police Bureau. The COAB recess signals an opportunity to assess, retool, and strengthen the structure and process of community engagement.
We thank you for your patience and all of your hard work to date.
Dennis Rosenbaum & Amy Watson
Former COAB chair Kathleen Saadat's email to a whole bunch of people this afternoon:
To All Concerned:
I am writing as a private citizen, who has the experience of chairing the Community Oversight Advisory Board from June 1, 2015 until June 24,2016. Because this issue is extremely important to Portland and the communities that make up the totality of Portland residents, I am taking the time to respectfully share my thoughts with you about some of the issues that need to be addressed.
I blind copied about 40 people on this email. They are bcc'ed because I have not asked their permission to share their contact information. At the same time, it is important that as many people as possible, know the status of the COAB.
I applaud the decision to recess. This gives everyone a chance to give thought to what needs to be reconfigured/redesigned to help untangle the imbroglio of thoughts, feelings, policies, missteps, and good intentions surrounding this opportunity. It I s of critical importance to maintain a vehicle that provides for input from a broad spectrum of Portland residents. At this point, that imperfect but still viable vehicle is the COAB.
As you reconsider/reconfigure/redesign this vehicle, I encourage consideration of the following
-develop a clear concise statement re the purpose of the Board and share that with the broader Portland community using a variety of methods
-in you communication with stakeholders talk with people currently and actively engaged in working in/with communities and ask their thoughts on focus/direction and structure of the Board
-establish minimum criteria for selection to the Board and a process that insures implementation of same
-finalize the selection process and publish it, including timelines, responsibilities and who makes final decisions
- insure that EACH appointee goes through an orientation and swearing in as a public official
- explore ways to insure that City entities (e.g. CRC, HRC) are responsive to their obligations to make
appointments or remove their roles as described in the SA
- analyze each and every recommended change in terms of its real or potential impact on the ability of ordinary, non-elected, (but affected) Portland residents to have a voice in the process of PPB reform.
- to promote the Portland City Council's greater interest in the process and outcome (while avoiding the inclination to shape outcome), the Council should hold quarterly Work Sessions during which they will receive a report from the COAB regarding product and the health of the board
-The city of Portland should identify a person in the Mayor's office who is responsible for the ultimate success of the COAB, thus leaving the City attorney's office in its appropriate role as advisor on legal matters instead of decision maker on process or policy.
I am sure that if I spent more time there more things I could think of. This list I believe to be of upmost importance as you consider changes in the SA.