Portland Council to Vote on Controversial Changes to New Police Review Board

Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard says the council should not micromanage the Police Bureau's choice of a member on the new Police Review Board.

Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard says the council should not micromanage the Police Bureau's choice of a member on the new Police Review Board.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010
By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian

Portland’s city auditor, Commissioner Randy Leonard and Police Chief Mike Reese want to allow an officer’s direct supervisor to be a voting member of a new Police Review Board that will examine an officers’ use of force and recommend discipline, although city-hired consultants have advised against it.

Both Leonard and City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade characterized the change as an “administrative” one that came after discussions with Reese, whom the mayor appointed chief in mid-May. Mary-Beth Baptista, the Independent Police Review Division director, also supports the change.

But community activists are protesting what they argue is a substantive change that flies in the face of reform. They’re angered that the proposed changes were not brought to a stakeholder committee Leonard created this summer to consider further ways to strengthen police oversight until several committee members complained.

The Los Angeles-based Police Assessment Resource Center, consultants who have reviewed several years of Portland officer-involved shootings and investigations of use of deadly force, did not mince words when it recommended in 2003 and again in 2006 that an officer’s unit commander should specifically not have a vote on the board reviewing the officer’s actions.

The consultants point out that an officer’s commander already presents an after-action report to the board, making conclusions about whether the officer acted within bureau policy, and makes recommendations as to policy, procedure and training.

“It is inadvisable for the manager whose unit’s activities are under review to be given a vote on the review panel,” the consultants wrote in its first report in 2003. “Including the commander whose unit’s actions are under review is structurally flawed and cannot help but give the appearance of a process that is inequitable.”

Three years later, the consultants drummed the message again. They wrote that leaving the involved officer’s unit commander as a voting member of a review board “creates an inherent conflict of interest and gives the unit commander two bites at the apple.”

Last month when Commissioner Randy Leonard brought the proposal up for an emergency vote, he said that it wasn’t the council’s role to “micromanage” who the police bureau appointed to sit on the new police review board. The measure failed to pass and comes before the council again Wednesday.

Leonard said Reese spoke with City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade and requested that the police review ordinance adopted this spring, which stripped an officer’s unit commander of voting power, be changed to give the involved officer’s unit commander a vote on the new board. Currently, the unit commander does have a vote on the bureau’s Use of Force Review and Performance Review boards.

“Because the police bureau went from being hostile and reactionary to wanting to work with the council on this issue, I want to reward that kind of behavior positively,” Leonard said Tuesday, in an interview, referring to the recent changes in chiefs.

Reese, who as chief takes the police review board’s advice and decides whether an officer followed policy or deserves discipline, thought the unit commander would be the best versed supervisor of an incident and have the best information about what transpired, Leonard said. “If the police chief is now weighing in on this subject, and saying I’m going to value what this group advises me to do a lot more if the unit commander is there to advise me, I’m going to listen to that,” Leonard said.

Leonard says critics are losing sight of the larger reforms that the council approved this spring. A new Police Review Board, expected to be in place by Sept. 1, will take the place of two existing panels, the Performance Review Board and the Use of Force board; the IPR director will now be a voting member of the new board, and the auditor, not the chief, will appoint the citizen members to the board.

Members of Portland Copwatch, the Oregon Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of Women Voters, Portland’s Citizen Review Committee, and the Police Bureau’s budget advisory committee are opposed to the change, and complained about the lack of public input.

They argue that the unit commander has an opportunity to weigh in already, in the after-action report. They also discount Leonard’s and the chief’s argument that allowing the union commander to vote, and that vote now to be public, will make the commander more accountable.

Dan Handelman, of Portland Copwatch, likened the city-sought change to allowing an officer’s commander to serve as a “prosecutor” presenting a case, and then act as a juror.

“We are all trying to heal and engender trust in this process, but I think this is a big step backwards,” said T. J. Browning, chair of the bureau’s budget advisory committee who also sits on the stakeholder committee considering ways to strengthen police review.

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