Details of the new voter-approved police oversight board remain scant but if the Portland city auditor’s budget proposal is approved, the current system will have a firm end in sight.
Auditor Mary Hull Caballero’s proposal phases out Independent Police Review by June 30, 2022.
“It was widely known...that the sponsor of the measure did not want people on IPR working on the new oversight board,” said Hull Caballero, referring to Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who was the driving force behind the new oversight board. “And that presents a problem for the city because we need there to be a functioning oversight system until the new one is ready.”
As part of the city’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Portland is required to have a system in place that addresses complaints of officer misconduct and holds officers accountable.
Hardesty has been a long time critic of the Independent Police Review for being toothless and their inability, or unwillingness, to investigate racially disparate policing.
“We’ve been working on these issues for decades,” Hardesty said in an October interview about the oversight board ballot measure. “I had all the appropriate stakeholders at the table to make this happen. IPR in and of itself is not a credible oversight board.”
Prior to being elected to City Council, Hardesty worked with the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Police Reform on the Justice Department civil rights lawsuit and settlement agreement. Prior to that agreement “IPR threw out 60% of the complaints they received,” Hardesty said.
“It wasn’t until the DOJ mandated that they actually investigate more complaints, that they started investigating more complaints,” she added.
IPR has been overwhelmed with complaints since protests erupted across the country in May after the Minneapolis police killed George Floyd. The ensuing months of protests in Portland saw near-nightly clashes with Portland officers, who responded with barrages of impact munitions, tear gas and batons. One report issued by the police bureau estimated officers used force more than 6,000 times between April and September.
As a result of the more than 4,000 calls about police conduct they have received, IPR opened 118 investigations. Sixty-six are being investigated by either IPR or the bureau’s internal affairs. Of the 37 that have been closed, 11 were because they found no misconduct.
The new budget from the auditor’s office proposes cutting 30% of IPR’s current $2,767,538 budget for the next two years and reassigning two IPR analysts to help establish a new Evaluation and Investigative Services office. The new office would conduct policy and program evaluations and investigate complaints across all city bureaus.
IPR would retain its investigators until the transition to the new police oversight board is complete, at which time Hull Caballero said she hopes they will also transition to the new office.
All of this is being planned while very little is known about the new oversight board. The measure which passed in November calls for the new board to have the power to investigate a number of allegations against police, including uses of deadly force, as well as the power to discipline and even fire officers.
Before any of that can happen, a commission has to determine how members of the board will be selected, how long terms will be and other operating details. The Portland officers union has also challenged the board on legal grounds, suggesting any changes must be part of a bargaining agreement. Further, the implementing ordinance to establish the commission that would build the new oversight board hasn’t been passed yet. That has left Hull Caballero and her staff in a bind.
“I do have to bring some certainty to my side of the equation,” she said, expressing concern that Independent Police Review staff will find new jobs and leave before the transition is complete if they do not have a transition plan. “My budget proposal today addresses that risk by incentivizing the Independent Police Review staff to stay in their jobs knowing that they have a future in a different role.”