SOMETIMES outrage works.
Last week, Portland City Council took up three proposed changes to police oversight in the city. As tends to happen with these things, most of those changes were met with derision from the public.
During a marathon hearing lasting more than five hours, the council listened to person after person tearing the proposals to shreds—particularly a contentious item that would modify the city’s 2012 police reform settlement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and create a watered-down citizen oversight group.
Now, it looks like change is on the way. Two of the three proposed policies will have been substantively altered when they come before council again on Wednesday afternoon. Here’s a rundown of where things stand.
Citizen Oversight: Tabled
The city’s settlement with the DOJ—a response to a pattern of police abuses—created a “community oversight advisory board” (COAB), made up of advocates, experts, and police officers. It had authority to “independently assess” the city’s progress at police reform, but it was plagued with issues from the start. Late last year, the decision was made to let it die off.
Now, Wheeler’s office, the DOJ, and a number of others have drafted a replacement: the Portland Commission on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP). And, man, people hate it.
Last week, commissioners heard concerns that the group would be too small, too beholden to the mayor, too limited in terms of its say in the settlement agreement, and too secretive (many meetings wouldn’t be held publicly). Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly secured changes designed to increase the PCCEP’s size, allow for more council input into the group’s makeup, and make the group more transparent, but it wasn’t enough to silence critics.
So Wheeler’s going to delay the vote.
“We feel that the PCCEP as currently constructed addressed many of the criticisms that were raised, but we do believe there are some other things that we can look at,” says Wheeler spokesperson Michael Cox. “We’re working on specifics to address some of the concerns we heard.”
The delay likely won’t last long. Cox says tweaks will involve how much influence the PCCEP has and increasing the number of public meetings.
48-Hour Rule: Replaced
One huge reason former Mayor Charlie Hales won enough votes to approve a controversial police union contract last October was the repeal of the “48-hour rule,” which gave cops at least two days after a shooting to collect their thoughts before speaking with internal investigators.
In March, a memo from Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill unraveled that progress. Underhill believes Oregon case law grants immunity to cops from criminal prosecution if they’re forced to give a statement to internal affairs. As a result, the Portland Police Bureau has been holding off on taking those statements—a big concern for police accountability advocates.
To address this, Wheeler first proposed challenging Underhill’s opinion in court. Under that plan, the city would pass a policy that officers be interviewed within two days of a shooting, but wait for a judge’s blessing before enforcing those rules (which could take a year or more).
In the face of last week’s testimony, that changed. Commissioner Nick Fish tells the Mercury he became convinced there’s not actually much risk in forcing a cop to speak with internal affairs right away. So he and Wheeler are planning to introduce a new ordinance ensuring that cops give statements promptly, even as the city seeks a judge’s blessing.
“Based on the case law, we think our approach is constitutional, and we also think we have very little risk,” Fish said Monday.
Independent Police Review Authority: Unchanged
The least controversial change seems primed to sail through.
This ordinance would allow investigators with the city’s Independent Police Review (IPR) to issue conclusions as to whether an officer has broken city rules. Currently, those staffers conduct investigations, but aren’t able to opine as to whether wrongdoing actually occurred—that falls to the supervisor of the officer under investigation.
This would give IPR a say. And, for once, no one’s upset.