Lake Oswego City Council approves process to engage community around policing
The city of Lake Oswego has created the framework for a community engagement process that will examine policing in a time of social unrest.
Staff presented a proposed statement that articulated the issue and desired outcome of the upcoming work around community policing, along with a proposed process for examining that work, during the Nov. 17 City Council meeting.
The process would include gathering input from community members about their experiences with police as well as the police department's input about what's important for the community to understand about the department.
Since July, the city has secured three facilitators — Bill de la Cruz, Lillian Tsai and Juanita Range — to help move discussions forward with citizens about their experiences with local police. A facilitator met with each city councilor to ensure the goals and scope of the project were understood.
A statement, which identifies issues that could be addressed, was then crafted based on that feedback, and with the help of City Manager Martha Bennett and Lake Oswego Police Chief Dale Jorgensen.
"We will thoroughly evaluate our systems, structures, policies, procedures, processes and practices with the goal of building public trust and relationships, especially with the people in our community who have been marginalized," the statement read. "As part of that process, we will seek feedback from the community, police officers and elected officials, about their expectations for law enforcement in Lake Oswego. This feedback will enable us to strengthen good practices and identify areas where we can adapt and improve."
During the public comment portion of the meeting, community members expressed concerns that the statement didn't encompass "all" participants, such as people who visit Lake Oswego, those who pass through the city or those who operate businesses in the city but may not reside locally.
Bennett clarified that the city did intend to cast the widest net possible.
"It is our intention to engage with visitors, engage with employees, business owners, folks who pass through as well, but we didn't really want to list and miss somebody," Bennett said. "When we said 'all' people, we really mean all people."
Other people wanted to see a demographic data breakdown with the analysis as well, and hoped that the evaluation of policing procedures, structures, processes and practices would include analyzing duties of policing like drug and suicide intervention and student resource officers (SROs).
Concerns regarding the wordsmithing of the last sentence of the statement, which read "Our vision is to ensure that we have a Police Department where a person's race does not determine the outcome of their interaction with our officers and where all people feel safe," were expressed as well.
Assistant City Manager Megan Phelan said the intention with the last sentence was not to imply a person's race indicates whether they will have an interaction with police and added that they would revise the wording to make it clear that a person's race should not determine whether they have an interaction with the police.
In regard to evaluating police duties, Phelan said they intend to be all-inclusive and that the work would include examining job descriptions, officers' daily activities, distinctions about how they respond to certain calls and SROs.
The engagement process for examining community policing will include a community kick-off event or launch that would outline the goals and objectives of the process, as well as small group discussions involving members of the community and the police department led by the facilitators — with city staff assistance — to gain diverse viewpoints and input. The facilitator then would report the results of those focus group discussions back to the council to figure out what next steps should be taken.
Councilor Daniel Nguyen said the council needs to provide a safe space for people to share their experiences without the council being in the room.
"The most important piece to really think about from your lens is how do you want to and who's the community that you will be inviting into these conversations?" said de la Cruz, adding that it's important to think about how to recruit and make sure there's a diverse group of voices and that the BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) community is a priority in terms of making sure their voices are heard.
"What we really want to make sure we're doing is gathering information that's important for you so we can really move the dial in this work. So, that's a piece that also needs to be fleshed out," she said.
A timeline has not been established, but the facilitators would like to talk with the new council members and mayor at the start of 2021 to receive their feedback before launching into the engagement process.
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