The Portland City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday afternoon to amend the city’s 2014 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to select an independent monitor to oversee the city’s compliance with the settlement.
The amendments mark a milestone in the enforcement of the settlement: not only will the DOJ not be directly responsible for overseeing the city’s compliance with the settlement for the first time after the independent monitor is chosen, but the amendments create a pathway for the city to self-monitor in the future.
“This signifies a bridge between the people of Portland and the institutions designed to protect them,” Commissioner Dan Ryan said. “The independent monitor will not only assess compliance, but identify barriers, foster recommendations, and ensure our progress is shared candidly with the public.”
All five members of the council praised the work that went into crafting the amendments to the settlement, with Mayor Ted Wheeler saying that the installment of an independent monitor “strengthens our hand” when it comes to the city’s position vis-a-vis the DOJ as the settlement process continues.
“I’m now the third mayor to serve under this settlement agreement, and it’s pretty clear that this will go on to the next mayor as well,” Wheeler said. “Four mayors. I’m not sure that anybody…understood that this process would take this long [when we entered into this original agreement.]”
The process has taken so long, in part, because of the police bureau’s actions. The DOJ made a complaint against the city in 2012 following a series of incidents in which Portland police used force on or killed people with mental illness—a pattern the DOJ argued violated Portlanders’ constitutional rights.
The settlement the city reached with the DOJ two years later called for bolstered officer accountability and community engagement, more community mental health services, and more parameters around police use of force.
Since then, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has continued to court controversy. Last year, for instance, the DOJ found that the city was out of compliance with several terms of the settlement stemming from police officers’ mistreatment of racial justice protesters during the summer of 2020.
In 2021, Portland police shot and killed Robert Delgado—an unhoused man experiencing a mental health crisis in Lents Park. Delgado’s family has since sued the city.
At the same time, the city and its police officers have taken steps toward fulfilling the terms of the settlement.
PPB piloted a body camera program between August and October of this year and is on track to fully implement a body camera program within the next ten months—a step that would fulfill a key term of the settlement.
Wednesday’s council meeting included a short period of public testimony, in which commenters were largely supportive of the notion of adding an independent monitor—but asked that local candidates be considered for the position.
Rev. LeRoy Haynes, Jr., chair of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, said he was optimistic about the opportunities presented by the amendments but said registered concern about the ability of an candidate not from the region to get up to speed on the “idiosyncrasies” of the relationship between Portland police and community members in a short period of time.
The move to an independent monitor comes in the wake of a 2021 memo from US Attorney General Merrick Garland in which he endorsed the use of the position as a tool to “rebuild trust between law enforcement agencies and communities they serve.”
Garland also noted in that memo that consent decrees “cannot last forever,” and that the goal is for agencies to successfully root out and correct misconduct. According to the city, the DOJ will agree to cut 40 paragraphs from the settlement agreement if the city continuously complies with its terms for two years.
The new independent monitor will be chosen following a public selection process that will include a town hall for finalists. An initial pool of candidates for the position will be selected with input from the Portland Police Association and the Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing.
A representative from the city attorney’s office said the city is not yet certain how much the independent monitor position might cost, though the new oversight system is expected to be more expensive than the system it will replace.
“This has been a long and complicated process,” Ryan said. “It is my hope that this settlement marks a turning point in the relationship between our community and our police officers. Portland, we will establish trust.”