Police oversight official stepping down

By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, May 7, 2013

Mary Beth Baptista

Mary Beth Baptista

Mary-Beth Baptista, who has served as director of Portland’s Independent Police Review Division, is leaving the job in mid-June, Portland’s city auditor announced Tuesday.

Baptista has led the division, the intake center for complaints against Portland police, since 2008 after working as a Multnomah County deputy district attorney.

City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade said she plans to appoint the assistant director, Constantin Severe, to serve as the next director. He has worked as assistant director since 2008.

“Mary-Beth is a courageous leader and a force to be reckoned with,” Griffin-Valade said in a prepared statement. “I was incredibly saddened when she told me she was ready to move on in her career. She had made an important impact on how Portland police officers interact with their community.”

Baptista will complete the hiring of three new IPR investigators and oversee the division’s annual report for the year.

Baptista was involved in helping craft changes to the Independent Police Review Division in 2010 that increased the division’s police oversight powers.

Recently, Baptista was outspoken in her criticism of Police Chief Mike Reese‘s decision to demote Todd Wyatt, instead of firing him for his inappropriate touching of women employees and escalation of an off-duty road rage encounter.

“When I arrived at IPR in 2008, I had a distinct plan of action in mind. I’m proud that IPR has moved a long way toward ensuring greater civilian oversight of the police thanks to hard work and supportive leadership,” Baptista said.

“I wish her well and am hopeful that the CRC will have a good working relationship with Constantin Severe,’’ said Rochelle Silver, a member of the Citizen Review Committee. The committee hears citizen appeals of the police findings stemming from complaints of alleged officer misconduct.

Attorney Jamie Troy, who serves as chair of the Citizen Review Committee, said her departure is a surprise.

“I commend Mary-Beth for ushering in some true reforms during her tenure at IPR and agree these have allowed IPR to play a more hands-on and powerful rule in police oversight,” Troy said. “I’ve always been impressed by her doggedness and determination and wish her well.”

Troy said he’ll welcome Severe to the director’s job.

“I think he’s a great choice,” Troy said. “I find him to be approachable, frank and fair and look forward to working with him at the helm of IPR.

Officer Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association,  said he always had a good working relationship with Baptista.

“She did a tough job and I wish her the best in whatever she decides to do in the future,’’ Turner said.

Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch said he doesn’t expect much change with transition in leadership. He did note that Baptista has provided written director’s reports at each Citizen Review Committee meeting that includes updates on the status of police internal affairs investigations.

“While it has mattered who the IPR director is to some extent, until the institution is fixed, it doesn’t really matter,’’ Handelman said. “Over the years, all the directors feel okay with the constraints that are handed to them and haven’t pushed for a stronger review board as the community has pushed for over the years.’’