Ten years ago, the US Department of Justice intervened to help reshape and monitor the Portland Police Bureau’s use of force policies. Now, a private firm will be the arbiter of whether police are following the federal government’s guidelines. 

The mayor’s office announced Monday that MPS & Associates was jointly chosen by the city and DOJ to serve as the independent monitor of a settlement agreement between the DOJ and the city of Portland. The arrangement is estimated to cost the city $1.59 million. 

The settlement agreement was approved by a court in 2014, following an alleged pattern of Portland Police Bureau (PPB) using excessive force on people with mental illness. The DOJ said PPB’s behavior violated the civil and constitutional rights of Portlanders. While the city denied the characterization, it agreed to adopt new training related to PPB’s use of force, its crisis intervention tactics and mental health services, as well as “officer accountability and community engagement.”

The settlement agreement also yielded the creation of the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP). PCCEP independently assesses the implementation of the DOJ settlement and facilitates public input on PPB directives.

After years of ongoing monitoring and periodic intervention, the DOJ said last year that the settlement agreement could be overseen by an independent firm. A selection process narrowed down three top candidates, followed by a public town hall last month. One of the top three firms reviewed by the city–DLG Consulting–drew questions and concern from town hall attendees over a previous “Blue Lives Matter” social media post made by the firm’s leader, a former prosecutor. The slogan, which refers to police, became popular among law enforcement circles as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum and is often viewed as antithetical to the movement.

During last month’s town hall, each firm took turns answering questions about neutrality, racial bias, and the level of commitment to police accountability.

“Our team is highly cognizant of the progress made over the last decade implementing the reforms outlined by the agreement, and we have a first-hand understanding of how much work goes into such advances,” Mark Smith of Mark P. Smith and Associates (MPS) said of the city and PPB. 

Smith said “community voices” would inform the work his firm does. Smith has spent nearly 20 years doing police oversight work for departments across the country. He’s currently the inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). The inspector general is an independent office tasked with providing oversight of police conduct and investigating complaints against police.

In addition to Smith, the MPS team includes deputy monitor Brian Buchner, assistant inspector general of the LAPD who previously held key roles in the Los Angeles mayor’s office and teaches criminal justice courses at the University of Southern California (USC). Associate monitor Antoinette Edwards will serve on the team alongside Smith and Buchner. Edwards, who lives in Portland, previously served as director of the city’s Youth Violence Prevention office and led the city’s Public Safety and Peacekeeping initiative. Edwards stressed the importance of community engagement in ongoing monitoring.

“From Copwatch, to [Portland Police Association], we need everyone at the table,” she said during last month’s town hall.

In a proposal to the city earlier this year, Smith said if his firm is selected, he’d make it his primary job.

“Mr. Smith intends to focus squarely on the implementation of the Agreement and to devote every bit of time and effort that is called for in order to reach the goal of the Agreement’s successful termination,” MPS’s proposal states.

The firm estimates the first year of monitoring will cost $837,500 for labor, court appearances, compliance assessments and reports, and public town halls. Included in the cost estimate is $35,000 for “travel and lodging.” MPS estimates the second year will cost the city $753,750.

Portland City Council is slated to vote on accepting the bid and contract with MPS on May 2.