‘Failed system ... failed leadership’: 3 resign from Portland’s police oversight board in 24 hours

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Sept. 3, 2020 12:18 a.m.

In resignation letters submitted Wednesday, members said they believed the current system for police accountability was broken

A Portland police officer fires an impact munition while dispersing protesters in Portland, Ore., in August.

A Portland police officer fires an impact munition while dispersing protesters in Portland, Ore., in August.

Jonathan Levinson / Jonathan Levinson

Three members of the city’s 11-person police oversight board have resigned — all in the span of 24 hours.


“The events of this past weekend were a tipping point for me,” wrote member Adam Green in his Wednesday resignation letter. “We continue to witness excessive force used by officers on the streets. Members of the media continue to be threatened. Armed Trump supporters are allowed to parade through downtown Portland while pointing guns at people that aren’t wearing Trump gear.

“These are just a few examples of a failed system with failed leadership. I can no longer support this system in any way.”

The Citizen Review Committee serves as a volunteer advisory board to the Independent Police Review, the city agency that investigates complaints made against police officers. The City Council has referred a measure to the November ballot asking Portlanders to scrap the agency and replace it with a new model championed by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.

But Candace Avalos, the chair of the CRC, said this system could take two years to implement, assuming the measure passes. In the meantime, she said the Independent Police Review has stopped recruitment for the oversight board.

This leaves the committee shorthanded for the foreseeable future at a time when an unprecedented number of complaints against police are flooding the agency. IPR director Ross Caldwell estimated back in July that the complaints would add more than a year’s worth of extra work. The CRC, which hears appeals, will likely see a similar workload increase.


Related: Police violence at Monday protest under investigation

In their letters, two resigning members said they’d joined the committee to push for a more accountable police bureau. Both members said they found it impossible.

“I believed real change could occur in the current system,” wrote Green, the director of funding and operations at Oregon Humanities, who was appointed to the committee this April. “I no longer feel that way.”

Hillary Houck, appointed to the committee two years ago, said she’d been dismayed by the outcome of a case that went in front of Council last year. An officer had been accused of retaliating against someone who made photos of their police car by citing them for jaywalking, according to the Portland Mercury, which covered the case. The police chief at the time, Danielle Outlaw, believed there wasn’t enough evidence. But the City Council overturned the chief’s decision, meaning the bureau had to impose discipline on the officer. The mayor had been the only Council member to side with the police bureau questioning whether it was “a fair or reasonable process,” according to the Mercury.

“I was dismayed by the Mayor’s reaction and the ultimate consequence for the officer involved in a case our committee and the rest of City Council saw as clear retaliation,” wrote Houck, chief program officer at Human Solutions. “Mayor Wheeler questioned why we would even have a citizen committee that could overturn decisions made by the Chief of Police.

“In a time that police accountability is ever more important, I can no longer be a part of a group that is undermined by the Mayor or the Chief of Police,” she continued.

Committee member Carol Johnson, director of civil rights at Oregon Labor and Industries, was the third member to quit. She was appointed to the board this April and did not detail why she was leaving in her resignation letter.

Avalos, who supports the new oversight system proposed by Hardesty, said she’s hoping the city will allow the current board to continue recruitment, so it can continue its work until a better system comes along.

“We need to fill these seats,” she said, “because we still have a job to do.”