Lake Oswego City Council moves forward with community policing work plan
The Lake Oswego City Council evaluated a detailed work plan for moving the conversation forward about community policing, laying a foundational framework for the work to come.
Staff presented a work plan for an engagement process to examine policing in a time of social unrest during the Feb. 18 City Council meeting. Though no action was taken Thursday evening, the council had time to discuss the work and pose questions about the plan.
In June 2020, the former City Council (four new members joined this year) wanted to have a conversation with the community about policing and hear about peoples' experiences with local law enforcement. The following month, the city secured facilitators — Bill de la Cruz, Lillian Tsai, Juanita Range and most recently Tara Cooper — to help move discussions forward with citizens.
During a council meeting in November, staff presented a proposed statement that articulated the issue and desired outcome of the upcoming work, along with a proposed process for examining that work.
During the public comment portion of the November 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.
City Manager Martha Bennett clarified that the city did intend to cast the widest net possible.
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.
Staff returned Feb. 18 with a revised statement. The last sentence was altered and now reads: "Our vision is of a Police Department that is committed to providing equipment, enforcement and outcomes and which does not make decisions based on a person's race so that all people in Lake Oswego feel safe and welcome."
Staff also recommended four components for the outreach process: a community kickoff event, engagement with police department focus groups, community focus groups and a community wrap-up event to create an interactive environment for people to learn about and discuss results and recommendations from the outreach process.
"Internal focus groups representing a cross section of the police department will help deepen understanding of policing from an internal perspective, provide insight into ongoing efforts surrounding implicit bias and help identify potential areas of improvement in policing practices," the staff report read. "Input from those who live, work, recreate and visit Lake Oswego is a critical element of the outreach process that will inform future recommendations to ensure the work the police department does is in line with our community's expectations."
When the outreach process is complete, the facilitators will present recommendations to the council.
"I think it's a very important project. It's a challenging project, and yet it's the right thing to do," de la Cruz said. "We're going to work really tirelessly to make sure we meet those objectives and get as much information as possible."
The work plan also acknowledges that reaching out to communities of color in the metro area is important, because of the smaller number of communities and organizations of color in Clackamas County.
"This is an important addition to our outreach effort since we are leading with race in this conversation," said management analyst Charity Taylor.
Mayor Joe Buck asked what the city will do with the information and data gathered from the outreach process.
"Our hope is that — as I tell people all the time — I think our police department does a good job and is very aligned with the community values, but could do an even better job," said Bennett, adding that there are roots of racism in policing in America and she and LOPD Chief Dale Jorgensen are committed to rooting them out to build an improved external and internal culture.
Jorgensen said he envisions a process that will help identify gaps in the police department and then the department will work to bridge those gaps. He also hopes there will be an educational component to the process to help people understand what LOPD does, because every police department is different and has different visions.
"If there's gaps in that vision then we can adjust those gaps," he said.
De la Cruz added that the hopeful outcomes are twofold. One, he said, is understanding systemic racism and how bias plays a role in society's systems, as well as understanding the national climate around policing and focusing on Lake Oswego as an entity and what's happening here from a local perspective. The other outcome is to build structures and processes where the community can have open conversations without demeaning each other in the process.
"We can equip you all with these skills to continue to facilitate these conversations," de la Cruz said. "This is ongoing work so part of that work is creating the structure to continue this dialogue."
City Councilor Massene Mboup said the problem is not police, it's society.
"The people who work at the police (departments), they come from our society," Mboup said. He said none of the people alive today created these racist systems that exist, "but we have the obligation and the courage to face it and to fix it."
Mboup said it's important to be intentional in this work and that the city also should start a dialogue about other places in administration, not just policing.
"This system is deep-rooted everywhere. Until we call it out everywhere, it's not going to be solved," Mboup said. "You fix the police but who's recruiting the police? It's some people in administration."
De la Cruz said systemic racism is a huge issue and what they're doing at the city level is creating a process to have conversations, which can then be replicated when looking at other systems.
"Part of this objective, starting here, is looking at this policing structure to say, 'What's happening here?' And of course, if there's ripple elements we see or hear about in other parts of our systemic structure within the city, we can bring those forward as well," de la Cruz said. "We're building this process as we go with the best knowledge that we have.
"You can't take everything on at once. This is our starting point."
The community kickoff event will be at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 9. Advertisements for community focus groups also will begin this month and facilitators will conduct external virtual focus groups as well.
Initial findings will be discussed at the May 4 City Council meeting. Staff and facilitators will then analyze outreach results and finalize the report for the June 1 City Council meeting.
For more information, visit the city's website.
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