Beaverton police answer questions from public due to new project
As calls for racial justice continue, Beaverton is teaming up with its police department to create an open dialogue between police and the public.
The Beaverton Police Department and the Human Rights Advisory Commission are coming together for what they are calling "inquiry sessions." The sessions provide a dedicated space for listening and starting conversations about police operations and policy, response to demands for police reform, and thoughts regarding long-term structures for community oversight.
According to HRAC volunteers, the project came about after the killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd. In late May, a video surfaced showing Floyd dying as a white police officer restrained him with a knee on his neck for several minutes, ignoring Floyd's pleas for air.
Since then, a whirlwind of outrage, frustration and, at times, destruction has swept through cities across the United States.
"We, as a commission have had a history of having a connection with the Beaverton Police Department," said Laurel Grasmick-Black, who chairs the commission in Beaverton. "So, this seemed like an opportunity for a deep dive, (and) it seemed like a good fit."
The inquiry sessions first started in July. So far, HRAC has held three during the commission's regular monthly meetings. Six sessions are planned in total.
The sessions last a little over an hour on Zoom and are sometimes accompanied by readings and review of other materials between meetings. Beaverton Police Department Chief Ronda Groshong is also in attendance, with other police officers present.
"The Beaverton Police Department welcomes community feedback and recognizes that open dialogue between the community and the police department increases understanding and accountably," said Beaverton Police Department spokesperson Matthew Henderson. "Police policies not only reflect the best contemporary practices of the profession considering sometimes complex legal issues, but they can also be reflective of community expectations of their police department."
Topics discussed during the sessions include relationship building, data transparency and current community outreach.
In the group's first session on July 1, Beaverton resident Tonia Cottrel expressed her excitement about the opportunity for police and residents to speak to — and hear — one another in an open forum.
"What I think is great about Beaverton is that we can have a dialogue," said Cottrel. "We don't have to have huge protests and gas thrown at people and rocks thrown at cops."
Cottrel went on to say that she lives in a heavily Latino neighborhood where her neighbors at the store tell her about the bias they have experienced from officers.
"That there's this intimidation factor," she explained. "People are afraid from the community to report this, because they're concerned about ICE (and) that they're going to lose their jobs in case they get pulled aside."
She remembers bringing this issue up to police officers before, she said, but she felt the officers didn't understand why there wasn't trust from the beginning. Cottrel suggested for officers to walk on foot in certain neighborhoods to make others feel safe, instead of pulling up in a patrol car.
Groshong thanked Cottrel for her input.
"We all have implicit bias," said Groshong. "We are cognizant of that and our officers go through training. … We know we aren't immune, just like everybody else. You get busy, but (we) need to take a step back and realize we absolutely can (go) out walking on foot."
She added, "It's something that's really easy and that we can do better."
HRAC volunteers hope the inquiry sessions will serve as a model for other communities. But commission member Dori King said for Beaverton, having a police chief who is willing to listen and learn has been key.
"Whatever solutions come up in a particular regional area, it has to take into account the socio-political context of that area," King said. "In this context, we have a police chief who understands that there are some areas where communication can be improved. She wants to build more transparency."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.