Community input prompts changes to settlement agreement

By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, Nov. 8, 2012

Attorneys, community activists and mental health providers filled Portland City Council chambers Thursday to voice concerns about the city’s pending agreement with federal justice officials on police reforms.

Many argued that until an independent civilian panel with subpoena powers is created with the authority to investigate alleged police misconduct, abuses will continue within the Portland Police Bureau.

Speakers played videos of recent police confrontations with community activists and relayed stories of their own negative experiences with officers.

“As long as we have a system where police are investigating the police, we’re never going to get the police department we want,” said attorney Greg Kafoury, who represents people who sue the police.

His son, attorney Jason Kafoury who works with his dad, said 98 percent of the calls they receive regard citizen complaints against Portland police, not against Beaverton, Gresham or other police agencies.

“There is a cultural problem here that has to be addressed,” Jason Kafoury said. He drew applause from the crowd, dismaying the mayor who cautioned that peopleĀ  applauding during the hearing could be asked to leave.

Greg Kafoury called the proposed changes to the current police oversight system in the federal Department of Justice settlement an “astonishing waste.”

“It’s the establishment of new levels of bureaucracy in a system already described as Byzantine,” Kafoury said. “All we are doing is spinning our wheels.”

The earliest the council may vote on the negotiated settlement is next week, Mayor Sam Adams said. But it’s clear there’s no support, at this point, from city or federal officials for an independent civilian oversight panel to investigate Portland police.

“That’s not in this agreement,” Adams said after the hearing. “But I hope the public would recognize the federal justice department will be overseeing this agreement for five years.”

The agreement follows the federal findings announced in September that Portland police engage in excessive force against people with mental illness. Thursday, the mayor presented a revised agreement that included some changes in response to complaints raised at a hearing last week.

The amendments keep intact the city’s existing Community Police Relations Committee, which works to improve race relations between police and residents. The initial plan had been to scrap and replace it with a new Community Oversight Advisory Board.

Under the changes, the chairs of the city’s Human Rights Commission and city’s Commission on Disability would appoint members to the new Community Oversight Advisory Board, and each City Council member also would appoint a representative.

Other amendments: Meetings of a new Portland police training advisory council would be public; a new Compliance Officer Community Liaison responsible for monitoring the reforms would report to the City Council; the Citizen Review Committee, which now hears citizen appeals of police findings stemming from their complaints against officers, would be able to request further police investigation that includes multiple inquiries.

Several speakers urged the city to ensure when police officials talk about being “transparent” with the public, they actually carry through.

Jan Friedman, an attorney with Disability Rights Oregon who has been a member of the bureau’s Crisis Intervention Team advisory panel since 1999, said the bureau refused to share training curriculum with her. She said a “new police culture” must exist to ensure the specialized crisis intervention team works closely with mental health providers and consumers.

Others called the agreement’s deadlines for new mental health care centers, or the sped-up 21-day deadline for appeals investigations to be done by the Citizen Review Committee not feasible.

Janet Meyer, interim chief executive of Health Share of Oregon, called the agreement’s plan for the opening of a new crisis drop-off center by mid-2013 “too energetic” a deadline. Derald Walker, of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, urged stronger coordination between the city and county and the local coordinated care organizations.