Portland City Commissioners
Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform
Members of the press
Consult Hardesty urges the city not to delay hiring a Community Liaison Compliance Officer to oversee implementation of the Department of Justice Settlement with Portland over police civil rights violations.
Recent media reports have me concerned. From them, I read of your desire to delay hiring a COCL because you believe, “We’ve not had mental health communities at the table.” As a member of the Mayor’s COCL Planning Committee, I can testify that a broad mental health community has been included in COCL recruiting.
As you know, from Chairing the Mayor’s Committee, and as our minutes report, the COCL application was widely distributed among mental health organizations, both locally and nationally; community networks, including the City’s Commission on Disability, did outreach …encouraging all who are qualified to bid for this contract. I strongly oppose once again halting the contracting process.
The pursuit of justice has long required professional oversight.
As a member of the committee who reviewed all the original applications, I can tell you there are excellent candidates in the pool we’ve forwarded to you. Continued delay raises the likelihood the most sought-after candidates will not be available … when decision-making concludes.
Your arrival at this position, contending “We’re not going forward” until new conditions are met is not at all transparent to me. You’ve not convened the Planning Committee since March 19th. This unilateral decision to delay arrives outside of the deliberative process. It is really disappointing, after volunteering two years of my life in these reform efforts, that you now claim the City has failed to liaise with the mental health community, when hiring a liaison.
Though uncompensated, my peers and I are fully invested in this community service. Delay now may not only tank our investment of time, it is likely to deflect those who anticipate good faith reform efforts. Community trust-building is an end goal of the Agreement: trashing the Committee’s diligent work would be to discard resources we hope you’d find precious. Who will seek participation in the COAB, if they know leadership is prone to unilaterally impose delay, and negatively impact results? Without sustained public involvement, paid City employees are more likely to sustain the very City failures that lead to unconstitutional patterns and practices.
Consult Hardesty ably testified to the Agreement’s failure, at being fair, reasonable or adequate. We’d prefer the parties respond to days of public testimony spent proposing plan improvements. Failing that, we would rather the DOJ establish facts of illegal use of force at open trial … than see the parties consent to a hastily conceived, poorly implemented plea deal. Given all this, we hope to attend to all opportunities to obtain more just and equitable policing. If the City is to unilaterally hire a COCL, I feel strongly that our Federal court should be invited to preside over annual meetings, to assess whether real reform is taking place. Given vague benchmarks in the Agreement (mostly now behind us), ‘substantial noncompliance’ may be difficult to ascertain for those ‘deep in the weeds.’
This latest ‘missed milestone’ represents precisely the type of delay I believe would benefit from both a compliance officer and a Federal judge’s observation. Portland is at this moment investing millions of new dollars in policing, as Chief [Mike] Reese unilaterally attends to failures in his bureau. It is poor management to anticipate such spending should go on without benefit of trained oversight to ensure the money meets the mission’s priorities.
Delay has become custom. Instead of going for Court approval upon your signature in December 2012, mediation and police union contract talks retarded the Agreement’s implementation. No improvements were made in the interim, but the City negotiated a side agreement in July 2013: the AMA Coalition is to co-participate in hiring a COCL, and recruiting COAB members. We were initially enthusiastic about your efforts the following month, to finally begin a community-driven process for hiring a COCL and assemble the COAB. In November, 2013 you informed us the Mayor’s office had arbitrarily announced it would take over what we rightfully anticipated would be broadly shared responsibilities. It was only after I reminded the Mayor’s office of the parties’ side agreement that members of the public were re-included in the COCL selection process. It strikes me as duplicitous that Commissioners did not at that time wonder, “Who else is not at the table?”
After a two-month delay, substantially the same COCL contract offer we’d helped draft finally went out. This previous ‘stop and start’ decision was unwarranted. I must remind you, as you consider pitting constituencies against one another – one from an identified class of victims, one from a talent pool with a long and sustained history of advocating for Constitutional protections (that Judge Simon brought into reform efforts as friends of thecourt) – that it is not the constituency base that is of vital importance in choosing the most qualified COCL. Success depends on achieving the mission’s objectives. It is an ability to assure the parties that we’ve let a contract most likely to compel the Portland Police Bureau to comply with intended reform. Your current pool offers you excellent liaison candidates, less likely than the City to contend at a late date that we’ve failed to include all who seek justice.
I strongly suggest, rather than selecting a COCL for a background in either race-based, or mental health issues, the guiding principal for selection be a demonstrable ability to eliminate police misconduct. Consider: it may an entity with a proven track record in resolving other sorts of police corruption that would best indicate a COCL will reform local authority and a police culture found to violate The People’s Fourteenth Amendment protections.
Move forward, in an inclusive, trust-building pursuit of justice. Select a COCL before existing candidates find better offers. If you won’t amend the Agreement, concede to Judge Simon’s sole, studied recommendation: that of his continued, learned participation. Keep enthusiastic all who want to prevent bringing further harm to vulnerable people. Begin the task of allowing The People to participate more fully … by setting a milestone for creating the COAB.
Our failure to move reform forward in a complete and transparent manner is a failure of the entire City Council. As the Commissioner in charge of the Mayor’s COCL selection process, this buck stops with you. Don’t let our anticipation of initiative park there as well.
Jo Ann Hardesty
Principal Partner, Consult Hardesty