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Portland Officials Propose Controversial Change To Police Accountability Process


Portland city officials held a town hall meeting Monday night about proposed changes to the police accountability process. 

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales speaks at a press conference about recent police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales speaks at a press conference about recent police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Meerah Powell/OPB

The policy changes would eliminate public hearings when complainants appeal charges of police officer misconduct. This caused an uproar among community members. 

Currently, after an investigation is completed into alleged officer misconduct, the police officer’s commander decides whether the actions violated policy.

From there, the matter may go to the Police Review Board, or PRB, which then gives a recommendation to the Chief of Police. The chief makes the ultimate decision about disciplinary action.

The complainant can appeal to the Citizen Review Committee, or CRC, if he or she believes proper disciplinary action was not taken. 

The CRC is a committee that hears appeals from both complainants and officers and reports its findings to the public. 

It does not, however, handle any hearings on officer-involved shootings or in-custody deaths.

The new proposal would include a Consolidated Review Board, made up of CRC members, police officers and other officials.

This board would review and vote on every case that currently goes straight to the PRB. It would also handle officer-involved shootings and other instances of police violence. 

Under the change, meetings would no longer be held publicly.

The city officials present at the town hall meeting Monday evening included Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioner Dan Saltzman, Commissioner Steve Novick, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Attorney Ellen Osoinach and Attorney Mark Amberg. 

Osoinach and Amberg laid out the proposed system with a Powerpoint presentation to over 50 community audience members in a small auditorium at Portland Community College.

“In May of 2015, the Department of Justice asked us, the city, to take a holistic look at our discipline system and propose the kind of changes that would simplify it,” said Osoinach. 

According to Osoinach, this proposed system would complete investigations within 180 days, which doesn’t always occur in the current system. 

A large community concern was that this new proposal seemed to come together too quickly, without warning or outside involvement.

Osoinach said a lot of thought went into the proposal, and that an “internal work group” came together in May of 2015 to look over budget implications and the possibilities for streamlining the process.

The preliminary information found by the work group was sent to a small focus group of “key individuals”, including representatives of the CRC and the Police Review Board.

The focus group met for six months and their brainstorming finally led to the public town hall meeting, said Osoinach. 

This did not quell community members’ concerns on Monday. Instead, audience members accused city officials of not being transparent and meeting behind closed doors for more than a year to devise the proposal. 

Community members were also distressed that Portland’s Community Oversight Advisory Board, or COAB, was not involved in any decision making.

The new proposal also would give the complainant in a police misconduct case the chance to be involved earlier in the process, instead of appealing after a decision has already been made. 

This, however, would mean the complainant would address the Consolidated Review Board directly and privately — meaning they would face uniformed officers on the board. 

Kristin Malone, the Chair of the Citizen Review Committee, said that situation could be intimidating. 

Malone spoke on behalf of the committee and said the panel did not support any changes to the current process.

“We are dealing with a proposal that is poorly understood, even by its drafters, and that is therefore hardly clear to us,” said Malone.

“What we did hear is that consolidated models will likely require that appeals be conducted in non-public meetings. Assuming the new model permits a complainant to testify in those proceedings, complainants will be forced to testify in a room full of uniformed officers,” she said. 

Malone said that this new process would eliminate community support and “have a chilling effect on community complaints, as well as CRC criticism of bureau practices.” 

Malone’s comments gained applause from the audience, as did other community members’. 

Twenty-one people signed up to speak, including members from groups like the League of Women Voters, Portland Copwatch and the National Lawyer’s Guild. The meeting ran about 30 minutes over time. 

Some community members yelled directly at city commissioners, while others read from notes. Everyone who spoke during the public comment period was critical of the proposal. 

The City Council will take up the changes at its Sept. 7 meeting.

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