It’s understandable you might get heavy-lidded when the jargon of Portland’s police reform gets bandied about.
Resist that urge, though. Slap yourself if you need to.
Because on Thursday, August 3, Portland City Council will take up a series of tweaks to the city’s ongoing settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice over police abuses, and the specifics deserve attention.
Yes, those specifics are full of dull acronyms. One key and controversial change in the agreement would replace the Community Oversight Advisory Board, or COAB, with a brand new Portland Commission on Community-Engaged Policing, or PCCEP.
Bear with me.
The COAB was supposed to be a first-of-its-kind, Portland-style success story. Cities around the country have agreements with the feds around police reform, but only Portland was folding in a diverse group of citizen volunteers.
The board, made up of experts, advocates, and police, was given authority to assess the city’s progress under the agreement, offer input on reports that would be released to the public, and help police improve their citizen outreach.
And it failed fairly spectacularly—for a whole host of reasons.
For starters, the city forgot to adequately train members on their responsibilities. The group also frequently bristled at the authority of a group of Chicago academics who are watching the settlement. There was infighting and fiery disagreements between police and various board members. People dropped out. And last year, city council finally pulled the plug on the whole thing, allowing board members’ terms to lapse without selecting replacements.
The problem: The COAB is built into the settlement agreement the city signed. Not having one puts Portland out of compliance.
Which is where these changes come in. For months, Mayor Ted Wheeler’s emissaries have been knocking heads with the DOJ about how to reformulate the citizen oversight group. The two parties arrived at the PCCEP, and some police accountability advocates aren’t happy.
“AMAC cannot support the PCCEP Plan the City currently proposes,” the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform said in a news release issued over the weekend.
The coalition objects partly because provisions that granted the COAB power to “independently assess” the settlement agreement are scrubbed under the current PCCEP plan, along with the COAB’s duty to “provide the community with information on the agreement.”
Instead, the PCCEP would be appointed by, and report to, the mayor, with a goal of improving police outreach. There’s not even a guarantee any of the group’s meetings would be public.
When I suggested that all amounted to “less power,” mayoral spokesperson Michael Cox disagreed. “The PCCEP will not have less influence than the COAB,” he said. “It will have more, because it will report directly to the mayor. Their recommendations will be heard and responded to in a timely fashion.”
I’m not saying Cox is lying or wrong, but the assurances of a mayor’s office and the locked-down legalese of a settlement agreement are two different things.
If you prefer one to the other, you can slap yourself once more and show up to council on Thursday at 3 pm.