City Commissioner Randy Leonard and City Auditor Lavonne Griffin-Valade are proposing an ordinance—to be discussed on Thursday, to reform the city's Independent Police Review and make it more powerful. The IPR is doing its best to do strong public outreach on the proposal, too: You can show up at city hall tomorrow night at 5:30, for a special meeting of IPR's Citizens' Review Committee, if you'd like to weigh in as a citizen on the reforms before Thursday's council discussion.

Meanwhile, I met today with Auditor Griffin-Valade and the Director and Assistant Director of IPR, Mary-Beth Baptista and Constantin Severe, to ask some questions about the proposed reforms. Read all about the proposals after the jump.


Mercury:So, what's this all about?
Lavonne Griffin Valade: "From the perspective of the elected official, I’ve been concerned since being sworn into office about the past performance of IPR, and this is before director Baptista’s time, and some issues around the CRC, and how the CRC has been responded to. I came into office with little knowledge of how IPR works operationally, but having seen in the press a lot of concern about their effectiveness. It didn’t take long for me to realize that things had changed considerably since Director Baptista came to the helm, and we began to discuss some real changes that we’d like to see. It became necessary to codify some practices that could, potentially go away, if the chief changed, or if the management of the bureau went away.

Could you give some examples?

LG-V:"Those are things like making sure that, during a bureau-initiated case, if it involves a community member, that the community member would still be able to file a complaint, and that later on they would still be able to file an appeal and have it heard by CRC. And then, there were some concerns which primarily came from Mary-Beth and Constantin, about the performance review board and the force board at the bureau, and we felt that IPR needed to have more authority in those and that the boards needed to be more transparent."
Mary-Beth Baptista: "From my perspective when I got here I knew that there was a crisis in confidence in the community in that the main concern that we heard consistently was that there was no difference between the bureau and IPR—that we were window dressing for the bureau. And when we hired our outreach coordinator, that was consistently what came up. But when it actually comes right down to it, it’s because a lot of our authority comes from the bureau’s directives, not our ordinance. This proposal makes city council the one giving us our authority, rather than it being at the discretion of the bureau. And a lot of what we have done is taken things that are already practiced and incorporated them into our ordinance. And we think that that’s important for consistency and validity of oversight, which can’t be at the discretion of the bureau. And really, the performance and force review board have been taken out of the directive and into the ordinance for exactly that reason. We need to make sure that that is a system that is consistent and transparent and not at the discretion of the bureau."

It sounds like those two review boards are currently not consistent?
M-BB: "The issue is that the review board as it stands has very specific language, it has these members—that the IPR is an advisory member and that it shall be there. However there was this situation where a review happened and I wasn’t informed, and I happened to stumble upon it."

From the Oregonian: "The auditor and IPR director Mary-Beth Baptista want to avoid what happened last summer, when the Police Bureau tried to exclude Baptista from a Performance Review Board evaluation of the internal inquiry into then-Officer Joseph Wild, who was accused of making sexually explicit phone calls on duty. Griffin-Valade said she didn't get the guarantee she sought from the chief that it wouldn't happen again."

"We had several discussions about why this happened, but the Chief’s response was that she’s the directive, and that she made the decision to violate the directive and not include the IPR in that hearing. This was the Officer Wild case, and I think they did the right thing in that case. But the fact that it could be done is a significant problem in our oversight system."
LG-V: "And under the new ordinance, IPR will not just be at the meetings but will be a voting member of the board."
Constantin Severe: "I think the significant part of having the new police review board in the ordinance, there’s a greater civilian voice on it since IPR will be a voting member. And another part of it is that there’s a citizen member on the board. Right now that’s a Chief pick, who the Chief can remove. But under the ordinance, the citizen member will be recommended by the auditor and approved by the council. And another thing is having a facilitator that’s not a bureau member facilitate the discussions—currently one of the Assistant Chiefs leads the discussions. And finally on the transparency piece the board will be required to have a public report that won’t have any witness names or the officer’s names, but the facts of the case, the board’s actions, and possible policy recommendations will be released to the public at least every six months."

So has the Chief been playing favorites with the citizens she chooses to sit on those boards?
M-BB: "I think the citizen members take their job very seriously and I think they do a good job."
CS: "Just from my own perspective, I don’t think there really has been an issue, but it’s more a matter of city policy. If you’re going to have citizen members on the board, the city council should have approval. I just think that from an institutional, structural level, this sets the right tone."

But it seems to me that some CRC members are more predisposed toward the police than others.
LG-V: "We went through a very grueling and deliberative process this time in terms of choosing the CRC. We made it very clear that we were looking for people who could make an objective, neutral decision. I think we did an exceptional job this time."
M-BB: "When I think back to the first appeal that I observed in July of last year to last week, I’m just amazed at the changes that have been made, and their willingness to self-examine and to listen to the newer members on the board when it comes to challenging the ways that things have always been done. I think they take their job very seriously and want to do the right thing, and are open to doing things differently, for example having a member from the National Lawyers’ Guild come and sit with the appellant, instead of having the APA advisor sit with the appellant."
LG-V: "The changes that we’ve made here, we’ve been very influential in terms of the wording that went into this, but it also reflects the work of the CRC's structural review report. And we really want to recognize the work of the CRC, too, because they have started an appeals workgroup to focus on that process and areas they want to change."
M-BB: "I think the important thing is that question of why are we doing this? There’s been a level of dissatisfaction and distrust among community groups, and we’ve listened, and read article after article about how we don’t have authority and how we’ve alienated the community, and this proposal is in direct response to that."
LG-V: "I have fabulous people running this organization and we’re in alignment perfectly in terms of our approach to this work. By charter, one of the auditor’s charges is to deliver the oath when new officers come onto the force or are promoted. I’m really honored to do that, because some of the words that I ask them to repeat after me are “I will faithfully, ethically and honestly perform my duties.” And so that’s where I’m coming from, largely. That, and the fact that I don’t want to see any more negative press stories about decisions that were made three or four years ago that still come back to haunt us. We’ll have no crises of confidence on our watch."

Why won't Randy put a clause in the ordinance promising review in 90, 120, or whenever days?
M-BB: "I know that the CRC has every intention to go back before council in 3 or 4 months on the PARC review workgroup, as well as the review of the Chasse investigation, and we’ve specifically asked them to look at IPR’s role in officer shootings and in-custody deaths. So we at IPR have every intention, once that review comes out, of going before council."
LG-V: "Clearly we’re a learning organization, and almost the year since I’ve been here, we’ve made significant changes to IPR. We’ve made changes.

But there's a very limited window for these changes to be made, because of the police union contract negotiations. And at yesterday's CRC hearing citizens were making points about doing tests for officers on drugs and steroids, encouraging officers to live closer in to the city, and also ongoing performance evaluation for officers. Why isn't any of that in here?
M-BB: "I think we have to look at things compartmentally. What we’re doing is improving the role of IPR. The next issue is policy issues that are within the Portland Police Bureau. They wouldn’t be legislated in an ordinance to strengthen IPR."
CS: "That’s also a council issue in terms of what council wants to do to legislate on that particular issue when it’s dealing with the bureau. What we’re trying to do is look at what we can do quickly. It’d be great if everybody lived in the City of Portland , but that’s not something IPR can legislate for."
LG-V: "And also once these changes have been implemented, then a year down the road I will hire an outside consultant to come in and look at them."
M-BB: "It’s been interesting to see the reaction of people saying, well it hasn’t been done in a decade and we’ve got to get everything done now, or else we aren’t going to get it done again. But that’s not going to happen with us. We listen, and we’re open to changing our processes. I understand why people are afraid that this is a once a decade thing, but I also feel like council’s in session every Wednesday."
CS: "I totally understand where that feeling is coming from. I live in NE, I know a lot of the issues that people feel about police, and part of it is that folks don’t trust the city to take care of this. And part of what Lavonne and Mary-Beth have done since I got here is hire an outreach coordinator, and the other thing, this is a process. This ordinance, when it passes, this isn’t the end of the shooting match."

But the police Commissioner is not going to be up for reelection for another four years, nor are the police union contract negotiations going to happen again in four years. So this is a bit of a now or never scenario, isn't it?
M-BB: “Those two things aren’t all that is happening in the community. Think about the difference in this community about police relations since last October. There has been a significant deterioration over the last few months.”
LG-V: “We’ve heard over the last couple of weeks from people who are fomenting for change.”
CS: "We’ve met with the Albina Ministerial Alliance, The National Association for Mental Illness, the National Lawyers' Guild. We’re there. We’re talking to people, we want to know what they feel about our proposal, and it’s one of those things where we’re asking for a level of trust."
M-BB: “We’re not working in a vacuum, either. The union negotiations are going on right now, and that is a forum for a lot of those issues. The community has to continue to put the pressure on those negotiations as well as they need to say to council on Thursday that this ordinance is the one they want. We can’t cast such a wide net that if everything becomes a priority, nothing becomes a priority. If the community really wants annual performance review, drug testing, encouraging police officers to live in the city, then they need to make those suggestions during the negotiation process. That’s the appropriate forum for that.”

In the ordinance it says ”The auditor may work through the city attorney’s office to hire outside legal counsel when the auditor and the city attorney agree that outside legal advice is necessary or advisable.” So you're asking for your own attorney. But why doesn't it say "shall," instead of "may?"
LG-V: “This is where we get to talking a little bit about politics. Frankly I feel very strongly that the city auditor should be able to hire outside counsel whenever the auditor deems it appropriate—any situation when the approach we take may be in conflict with some other part of the city. But the language there is a little bit of a compromise, because I felt that this isn’t the place to have that discussion. There’s a charter review commission that is going to begin meeting in 2011, and I will approach them about that. And at least there’s something there now, that talks about hiring outside council.”

The ordinance says the IPR director can initiate an investigation now. Is there a risk of politicizing the IPR director's role, there?
M-BB:" Well that’s why you have the process, that it goes through the same process—there’s checks and balances in the process."

Why are internal affairs detectives just sitting on these investigations for years? How long should an investigation take?
M-BB: "I think there’s a state law, a new state law, and I think the union is going to be asking for this, that’s the 3.20.145 expeditious investigations clause.
CS: "Absent good cause, the investigation should be launched within two years of the incident date, and then a twelve month limit on how long the investigations should take. The basic point is that there’s going to be an expectation that these investigations will process through within a year. And if they're taking longer, then there really should be some justification for why the investigations are taking that long, because it really does undermine credibility of the process both with the public and the officers."

Is there a risk that with subpoena power, you might subpoena a witness who then says something that could open them up to litigation?
M-BB: "First of all, subpoeana power is not for officers who would otherwise be compelled to testify by the bureau."

So the subpoena power is for retired officers, or officers from other jurisdictions?
M-BB: "Yes, or for example we had a case the other day that the Project Respond people wouldn’t talk to us."
CS: "The subpoena power is for persons or documents that IPR needs to do its work."

And so are there protections for for what gets subpoenaed?
CS: "Any subpoena would have to go through the circuit court, so if it’s some sort of sensitive document, there’d be a protective order, and the judge would go through that."
LG-V: "This is pure conjecture but if Project Respond knew that we could subpoena them then it's possible they might not have been so resistant to stepping forward and cooperating."
M-BB: "American Medical Response [the ambulance company] is also notoriously difficult to get information from. And there’s a reality to that—without a subpoena they don’t have to talk to us."

Why weren’t you all there yesterday?
M-BB: "From my perspective there are some issues regarding entering into contract and exchanging money—the city attorney’s office. They were just making sure that we didn’t end up getting sued. It was really these broad issues around fund-raising and what we could do and not do."
LG-V: "I followed your blog yesterday as the process was happening, but I really felt strongly that this was CRC’s initiative and project, and that they were very committed to making sure it came across well, but I also felt like some of the concerns would have been directed at us, and it would have made people uncomfortable if we were there. I went to hear Jesse Jackson speak, and I really heard community concerns there."

What's the cost of this change?
M-BB: "The one area where there may be a cost would be the independent facilitator for the performance review board."
LG-V: "We’re doing a fiscal impact study on that right now. The existing boards are two Wednesdays a month, we haven’t really figured out what kind of person we want."

Do you have a ballpark figure: $5,000, $50,000, or $500,000?
M-BB: "Can I get back to you on that?"

There have also been some concerns raised by Copwatch around the transparency with which this ordinance has been crafted.
M-BB: "That's interesting, because we’ve had multiple conversations with community organizations, we’ve met with AMA, NAMI, NLG, and all of these organizations have gone through this with us. There's also going to be a special CRC meeting tomorrow night—a forum at 5:30 in the Lovejoy room. For the community to come to as well and have a conversation."
CS: "Anybody who wants to meet with us. We’ll go to weddings, Bat Mitzvahs, anything."