Police reform: Go slow, get it right, be an example for the nation
It is our fervent hope that 2020 will be remembered as the year that Portland began to reform police procedures in order to address the Black Lives Matter movement, and to incorporate best practices for a better all-around Police Bureau.
But "began the effort" is the key phrase there. The city should be in no rush to finish this vital work in 2020.
Portland City Council: Take your time. Listen to everyone. Get this right. It is, perhaps, the single greatest challenge facing every city in America. Getting it right doesn't mean getting it done in a slap-dash manner.
The November general election saw the City Council take a remarkable shift toward a center-left coalition. Sarah Iannarone lost her bid to be mayor, which means Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty won't be police commissioner. And Hardesty's ally on instant police reform, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, also was ousted by voters.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, the city's police commissioner and the person who appoints the city's police chief, can lead the reform now with a moderate-liberal block that includes new commissioners Dan Ryan and Mingus Mapps. New council member Carmen Rubio could side with that coalition or could side with Hardesty.
Either way, here's how we see it playing out:
• Hardesty and Wheeler have been at loggerheads over police funding. Hardesty wants to wield an ax, and Wheeler wants to use a scalpel. It is in the mayor's best interest to find common ground with her. As an activist, Hardesty has been a champion of police reform for decades. She ran and won on a platform of police reform, and her position echoes that of a large segment of our community. On the issue of changing how policing gets done, she is not wrong. Hardesty needs to be at the table as a co-equal, not an outlier.
• America has a long and ludicrous history of trying to stuff reforms down the throats of a unionized workforce. It rarely works, and it's almost always the stuff of protracted court battles.
If Portland is going to achieve true, long-lasting police reform, the Portland Police Association, the rank-and-file union, has to be an active participant. The union will have new leadership in 2021 with longtime president Daryl Turner stepping down.
Imagine if major reform were to occur at a table that includes police command staff, union membership and Black Lives Matter advocates. Just imagine! Portland would make history if these sides could find common ground.
We are told by inside sources that morale at the Police Bureau has plummeted this year, with the months of peaceful protests, and the often-nightly violent riots. A barrage of anti-police rhetoric from Iannarone, Eudaly and Hardesty contributed to that.
Plus, a wave of retirements is hitting the bureau. The officers who remain will be younger and more diverse. Could there be a better time for the officers to be part of the reform conversation?
A battle royal to change the bureau from the outside would be bruising and never-ending. But getting police buy-in for any reform could lead to the change everyone in the city — police officers, people of color and everyone else — desperately needs.
• Talks about cutting police budgets or increasing police budgets are unhelpful until we know what we want the budget to pay for.
A thorough study needs to be conducted to find out how many armed, sworn officers the city needs. It is insufficient to say, "Portland has fewer than this city, but more than that city." So what? Those rare random and meaningless measurements.
What is needed is an independent, outside analysis of the calls the bureau receives in a given year — or multiple years. How many calls should be answered by an armed officer? How many should be answered by a clerk with a tablet computer who can fill out forms and get the data logged? How many should be answered by paramedics, or by counselors who specialize in mental health and/or substance abuse issues?
If we know that, then we know how to right-size the budget. It could mean increasing funding for police. It could mean more money for all-new training on de-escalation tactics.
Maybe those calling for immediate cuts to the budget are right. The problem is: We don't know that yet. And cutting funds without knowing how to budget for the police force the city wants, not the force it has, would be foolish.
• It's time to take a long, hard look at instituting citywide walking beats and getting officers out of their cars. Part of the problem every city in America faces is this: Police have become anonymous, roving guardians, which leads to an us-vs.-them mindset; not the neighborhood beat cop who knows the names and faces in his or her sector.
Would moving to a beat cop system be expensive and would it require a hiring spree? Maybe. Let's get the data and find out.
We are optimistic about Portland's chances of true, meaningful police reform, one that embraces the concept that Black lives matter, and embraces the concept of cops as peace officers.
If any city can do it, Portland can.
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