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New Police Oversight Gains Traction

Council sends measure to voters

Michael Leighton | 8/5/2020, 9:45 a.m.
Portland’s City Council has voted to add a measure to the ballot this November that would create a new independent ...
Adbi Noor examines a memorial on the downtown waterfront Friday for black lives lost at the hands of police. Nightly protests for racial justice have remained largely peaceful between demonstrators and police following an agreement last week between Gov. Kate Brown and the Trump administration to reduce federal officers in the city. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Portland’s City Council has voted to add a measure to the ballot this November that would create a new independent Community Police Oversight Board.

The panel of community members would have more power to investigate complaints against police, compel testimony by officers and impose discipline. The measure would also provide funding to support the work of the new police oversight panel by creating a budget pegged at five percent of the Portland Police Bureau’s budget.

Unanimous approval to send the measure to voters was a major victory for Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the first black woman elected to serve on the City Council and a long time police reform activist. Hardesty won over the support of Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Amanda Fritz to place the measure on the ballot. Objections came from the Portland Police Association, representing officers, and City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero.

“I am beyond thrilled that council voted to move forward to give voters the chance to put this long-overdue system into effect, Hardesty said. “While we’re celebrating this moment with the community, the work only begins with the results of today’s vote.”

Hardesty announced that a political action committee “Yes for Real Community Oversight of Police” comprised of a diverse coalition, would work to pass the measure. Led by communities of color groups, activists, community leaders and police accountability advocates, the campaign will represent constituents from across the political spectrum, in addition to business interests.

Hardesty said police accountability is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to making communities safer and that includes safety from police violence. If the ballot measure passes in November, a commission would be established to work with the community to create the specific details of the new system, Hardesty said. Additionally, legal changes would also need to take place before the new system could fully be functional.

“I want to thank Commissioner Hardesty for her leadership on this issue,” said Commissioner Eudaly. “Her decades of work on racial justice issues and police accountability have brought invaluable experience to City Council, and I’m pleased to support this ballot referral. Portlanders have been demanding change, and this measure empowers our community to make their voices heard in November.”

The council heard almost two hours of public testimony on the proposal, including from Dr. Rev. Leroy Haynes, a longtime leader of Portland’s African American community, and a member of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform.

“One of the most valuable means of transforming the killing of unarmed citizens of Portland is their lack of accountability,” Haynes said. “There are no consequences when unarmed black and brown people or mentally ill people are killed by deadly force in the City of Portland. This is why the AMA Coalition for Justice and Police Reform has supported the need for an independent police review board with subpoena powers to compel testimony.”

Alex Davis, a Portland Community College student, testified that the issue of police brutality has been made even clearer by the unwanted occupation by federal officers to downtown Portland.

“For too long the power in the relationship between the police and the community has been vested in the police. Now, in order to move forward the power must be vested in those to whom it truly belongs: the citizens,” Davis said.

Hardesty said the differences between the city’s current Independent Police Review and the proposed new Oversight System will be profound.

She said the new board would lead the nation in the three areas deemed most essential by experts in the field, independence, funding, and authority. It would be able to directly affect Police Bureau policies, discipline and terminate officers, compel testimony, and access police records with ease, all powers the current system is sorely lacking.

City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero objected to the charter change, saying it was created without her input and lacked sufficient review and policy analysis. The Police Association said the new oversight panel would violate existing laws and due process.