Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard believes the city’s police chief has too much power to obstruct independent investigations of officers.
He wants to make it a crime for Chief Rosie Sizer to interfere with the ability of the city’s Independent Police Review director to probe police behavior “just as it is for citizens to try to thwart police investigations by obstructing justice, it should be no different.”
Sizer said it’s too early to comment on Leonard’s idea.
Leonard said too often the city pays out-of-court settlements with citizens because of bad police behavior and yet those officers are rarely punished.
As an example, Leonard cites the 2005 case of a 58-year-old Portland woman punched in the face by an officer after a traffic stop.
“And then he broke her arm pulling her out the window,” said Leonard.
That incident resulted in a $150,000 settlement. “There was no discipline,” said Leonard.
He’s convinced it’s time for a new policy.
“We shouldn’t allow the mood of the Police Bureau on any given day to decide whether they’re going to be transparent or not,” said Leonard.
Police officers agree with one thing, that the review board be allowed more oversight in police internal investigations.
“There’s too often times the Police Bureau will use the internal investigation as a witch hunt,” said Portland Police Association President Scott Westerman.
But if Leonard gives the IPR and city auditors too much probing authority, Westerman says, “they go out specifically with an anti-police attitude and they don’t look at things objectively.”
Westerman also bristles at Leonard’s complaints about the settlement money the city is paying out. “Just because the City of Portland pays out money doesn’t mean there was any wrong-doing,” said Westerman.
The sides have some common ground but Leonard can expect resistance as he attempts to reform the city’s system of police accountability.
Leonard says his New Year’s resolution is to give the IPR more “teeth.” He’s already arm-twisting his colleagues at Portland City Hall on this issue.
Chief sizer says she may comment later, once she has a chance to consider Leonard’s final proposal.