Mental Health Advocate Urges Boycott of Police Training Panel if Secrecy Is Part of the Job

From the Portland Mercury, August 21, 2012 – by Denis Theriault

As noted in yesterday’s post about the Portland Police Bureau’s new Training Advisory Council, I’m still waiting on more details about how public—or not—the citizen panel will be. A posting seeking applicants didn’t mention whether the group’s four meetings a year would be open to observers.

Meanwhile, the same posting said anyone who is chosen will have to sign a “nondisclosure agreement.” Lieutenant Robert King, a police bureau spokesman, told me he didn’t think the NDA was written yet, when I asked for a copy, but he also said he didn’t know exactly what it might try to limit.

These aren’t insignificant questions. If the group’s meetings are going to be private, and if the group’s members won’t be allowed to talk about their work with neighbors, reporters, and other advocates, then it’s fair to ask whether the council is going to be a meaningful tool for improving community-police relations or another piece of window-dressing filled with handpicked cheerleaders from, say, the Citizens Crime Commission.

Since then, I’ve heard from Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland, a longtime observer and critic of police training practices, especially concerning the bureau’s efforts to limit the use of deadly force against the mentally ill. Renaud emailed a strong warning about the chill an NDA would have on community dialogue and urged like-minded advocates to stay away if silence is really going to be part of the arrangement. I’ve also heard similar concerns raised by sources in city hall.

Advocates speak out AND carry the response to the community they represent. People who do one but not the other are simply self-appointed pretenders. They are not advocates.

You can’t communicate to the community you represent—you can’t be a community representative—when silenced by a non-disclosure agreement. The intention of a NDA is to silence actual advocates; requiring one from a community advisory council underlines that the PPB and the city are still in public relation/spin mode, obtuse and arrogant.

With a NDA we do not endorse this Training Council and would not encourage anyone to participate.

As always, I’ll update when I hear back. I hope, though, that the bureau and the mayor’s office are thinking hard about these concerns. Meetings should be open to the public. And the NDA should either be scrapped or crafted to be sufficiently and objectively narrow enough (not giving away state secrets, etc.) so as not to stifle a genuine community discussion about police training.