COAB 2.0 is alive—almost.
After his initial idea for a new citizen board to oversee Portland police reforms was shred to bits earlier this month, Mayor Ted Wheeler brought forward a modified plan at a Portland City Council hearing this afternoon. And the council passed it in one go.
A lot in the proposal has changed.
Unlike the former plan, the freshly approved framework [PDF] for a "Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing," (PCCEP) explicitly grants the new board power to "independently assess" the city's ongoing settlement with the US Department of Justice over police abuses.
The committee would also appear before a federal judge to air opinions on that settlement, hold public meetings at least once per month, review police bureau policies, and, in a move that Wheeler took pains to point out was unprecedented, would have the ability to force "expedited review" of police internal directives the public has issues with.
Such power, "has never been granted to any public body, including COAB," said Wheeler, referring to the Community Oversight Advisory Board, a now-defunct oversight body that the new group is replacing.
Other changes: The eleven members would not be term limited, and city commissioners would have a greater say in their final selection (though the group is largely answerable to the mayor).
The tweaks addressed many of the concerns city council heard earlier this month, during the fraught hearing where it first considered the new body. And they earned Wheeler plaudits from his council colleagues, who credited him with listening to community concerns.
But they weren't enough to kill the lingering worries of some critics, including the NAACP's Portland chapter, and Portland Copwatch.
Less controversial at today's hearing: A new police directive that specifically requires that officers who shoot someone must speak with internal affairs investigators within two days.
That was supposed to be standard practice after the city hammered out a new labor contract with the Portland Police Association last year. But things were thrown into tumult recently, when District Attorney Rod Underhill suggested such prompt interviews—for the purpose of determining whether cops broke city rules—could make it impossible to criminally prosecute an officer.
With today's vote on a new policy, that's no longer an issue. The police directive passed by council today addressed three questions that had lingered after a hearing two weeks ago.
The new policy requires officer interviews "within 48 hours," and eliminated a widely panned loophole that would have given Wheeler the ability to waive that requirement. Now, only an officer's physical inability to speak with investigators would result in compelled interviews longer than two days after a shooting.
The city also directed the city attorney's office to pursue a court ruling definitively saying whether the policy is legal, or whether Underhill's more conservative interpretation is correct.
Some people are displeased. The fix to the city's "48-hour rule" rankles accountability advocates who want a mandate that officers be interviewed within 24 hours, or before the end of their shift.
"Prompt recorded interviews are necessary," said Juan Chavez, of the Portland chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which had a key role in pushing back on Underhill's legal memo. "Twenty-four hours is plenty of time, to reasonably.. interview an officer."
Portland Copwatch and the NAACP mirrored those concerns.
Criticism of the proposed PCCEP was more robust. Reverend Doctor Leroy Haynes and Doctor T. Allen Bethel, two central voices with the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition, applauded some of the changes the city had made to the proposal, but offered some relatively minor tweaks.
"We have reached a crossroads in the struggle to bring 21st century community policing to the city of Portland," Haynes told the council.
Others were more forceful. A letter from local NAACP President Jo Ann Hardesty, read aloud by another member of the organization, railed against council for ditching the COAB structure—mandated by the settlement that Portland reached with the US DOJ—in favor of the new proposal.
"The PCCEP is a pale subsitute for what was originally promised in the settlement agreement," Hardesty wrote. (Wrapped up in the potential passage of the PCCEP are amendments to the settlement.)
Joe Walsh, a frequent council critic who often attended COAB meetings, was also critical, noting that the council addressed very few of the recommendations that the now-defunct COAB made. He suggested results could be largely the same with the new PCCEP.
"You're giving them so much to do and to recommend it to you, who ignored them last time," Walsh said. "It’s absolutely outrageous that you would do this."
Some had a sunnier outlook. Myrlaviani Rivier, who served on the COAB, told the council it was headed in the right direction with the PCCEP proposal.
"This PCCEP really captures fair process," she said. "I appreciate everybody’s team that was involved in that and the vision that it took to do that."
The council addressed a few of the critiques, and ignored others. And in a move I didn't see coming, the body voted unanimously to slap an emergency clause on the ordinance, meaning it would go into effect immediately with passage (normal ordinances get a second reading, then take 30 days to go into effect).
Fritz said the emergency designation was necessary, since there are still steps before the PCCEP will be implemented. The US DOJ needs to formally sign off on the plan, City Attorney Tracy Reeve tells the Mercury, and, US District Judge Michael Simon, who's overseeing the settlement agreement, might also weigh in.
"It's in the public benefit to be sending this to the DOJ as early as possible," Fritz said.
So both changes—the resumption of prompt(ish) interviews of police who've shot someone, and a new citizen committee to scrutinize police reforms—are now passed.
The council was downright cheery.
"This is what happens when you have good community engagement," Fritz said. "Mayor Wheeler, I so honor you for allowing the process to unfold."
Fish, a central force in putting the 48-hour rule back in the trash, echoed her sentiment.
"He came forward with a proposal that got mixed reviews to put it politely," he said of Wheeler. That the mayor tabled that proposal so fixes could be made is "a hallmark of being a good leader," Fish said.
Almost everyone acknowledged that questions remain around the PCCEP. The committee "certainly has some challenges, but I do believe we need to try something different than the COAB model," Commissioner Dan Saltzman said. "We’ve got something here that does represent an improvement."
For his part, Wheeler kept his final remarks brief, finishing with: " This finishes the easy part. Now the hard work begins."