By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, Sept. 6, 2012
Portland’s mayor recently invited multiple community activists to apply for a seat on the Portland Police Bureau’s future Training Advisory Council, the first citizens’ group in city history that will have input on officer training.
Portland Copwatch and the Mental Health Association of Portland received the invites, but their representatives politely declined. They object to a “non-disclosure” clause, which would prevent their representatives from sharing material discussed among the council members.
“It just seems like too many restrictions,” said Dan Handelman, of the police watchdog group Portland Copwatch.
The two groups argue that the public must have a say on police training, and that to restrict the sharing of information obtained at the training advisory council meetings would be unfair.
“The whole point would be to get a community voice at the table,” Handelman wrote in a response to the mayor’s invite. “To be a legitimate voice, you have to be able to bounce the ideas off of other people in the community.”
Jason Renaud, of the Mental Health Association of Portland, told the mayor in a written response that not only has he decided not to apply, but he’s discouraged other association members from seeking a seat on the panel.
He said the council’s policy restricting the sharing of what’s discussed and materials presented is “incompatible” with community representation. Community members on the council must share the information with the organizations they represent for input, Renaud argued.
“These tasks of a community representative are not possible to complete when speech is constrained,” Renaud wrote.
Mayor Sam Adams and police bureau officials counter that some of the training policies and protocol to be discussed must be kept confidential to prevent police tactics from getting into the hands of criminals.
Sgt. Pete Simpson, a police bureau spokesman, said the training advisory council meetings – to be held quarterly – will be closed to the public, citing “the confidential nature of some information being shared.”
Yet the mayor on Wednesday left some wiggle room, when questioned about the training council.
“We will further refine what aspects of the Council’s work will be open to the public versus in executive session,” Adams said. “I do not want criminals to have access to some of our training tactics and deployment strategies so they need to be kept confidential.”
The creation of a training advisory council comes as the bureau is readying property on Northeast Airport Way for a new police training center. This spring, the City Council approved the $6.5 million purchase of a site at 14912 N. E. Airport Way.
According to early plans by Chief Mike Reese and the police bureau’s director of services Mike Kuykendall, the police training council would comprise of police Community Academy graduates “who have the knowledge and understanding of police training, tactics and techniques and have exhibited a willingness to work collaboratively with the police on training-related issues.”
The bureau’s Community Academy is a one-day introduction to Portland police training designed to give local officials, business and neighborhood representatives a sample of police training, which includes a morning at an outdoor firing range, a demonstration by the bureau’s Explosives Disposal Unit and scenario-based training role plays.
The cut-off date for applications for a seat on the new police bureau training advisory council was Aug. 31. The council is to meet a minimum of four times a year, and members are expected to make a two-year commitment to sit on the council.
Sgt. Pete Simpson said Wednesday that the final number of council members has yet to be determined, and members have not been selected yet. The bureau’s captain of the training division and one other Portland police bureau member – yet to be determined – will sit on the council as well.
Simpson said another reason the material discussed by the council must remain confidential is that part of the council’s work will be to sift through the host of training recommendations made by outside consultants to the city, including from the Police Assessment Resource Center, and Los Angeles County’s Office of Investigative Review.
He said the new training council will “have a work session to fully vet these recommendations,” and forward the ones the council supports to the chief.
It’s unclear why the discussion of the outside consultant’s recommendations would require a closed-door session, as all the recommendations have been made public and are posted on the city’s website.
Simpson said the police bureau is “also working on a way for the public to directly provide input” to the training council, “but that has not yet been fully determined.”