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Emerging bill may narrow differences between police, minority groups in controversy.



Public debates about profiling — a practice by police of using race or other broad characteristics to stop and search people suspected of crimes — usually divide police from minorities.

But representatives of both sides say they are working toward a consensus bill that Oregon lawmakers can approve this year after a debate stretching over two decades.

The formal lawmaking process began Monday, when the House Judiciary Committee considered one of a trio of bills aimed at profiling.

Its chairman is Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, a retired Portland police lieutenant and one-time State Police trooper, who says he wants to combine elements of all three bills into House Bill 2002.

Among the nine committee members are Reps. Andy Olson of Albany and Wayne Krieger of Gold Beach, both retired from the Oregon State Police.

“That has affected the conversation a lot,” says Salome Chimuku, public-policy director of the Center for Intercultural Organizing based in Portland, and a leader of a coalition effort to ban profiling.

Eduardo Corona has had personal experience. While driving a newer car, he says he was stopped twice within a week, once by the Washington County sheriff and once by Hillsboro police.

“I asked why, and they said they were just checking,” says Corona, who lives in the county. “Maybe the car was too nice, you can say that. When I was driving my old junker, I was not stopped.”

Such bans usually cover race, ethnicity and skin color. One in five Oregonians is classified as a member of a minority in such groupings.

As written, House Bill 2002 proposes nine other categories: Age, gender, homelessness, language, mental disability, national origin, political affiliation, religion and sexual orientation.

“We understand profiling looks different in every community, but it happens,” Chimuku says. “So we want to make sure the (legal) standard in Oregon is that we do not tolerate people being stopped and questioned based on a characteristic that in most cases they are born with.”

According to a national report issued by the NAACP last fall, Oregon is among 20 states — five of them in the West — without a formal ban on profiling.

A profiling ban is one of three priorities listed by a coalition of minority groups earlier this year at a City Club of Portland forum.

Rep. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, one of two black members of the current Legislature, is chief sponsor of HB 2001, 2002 and 2003.

“Profiling goes beyond the outcome of any one encounter,” Frederick says. “Over time it leads to buildup of resentment based on lack of respect, and that resentment leads to increased tension carried into the next interaction with officers, and that isn’t good for citizens or officers. Profiling damages the police due to lost credibility, and damages the community due to lost trust.”

Senate Bill 486, sponsored by Sens. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene, and Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, also contains elements of the House bills.

Who handles complaints?

In addition to a state ban on profiling, other proposals would require police agencies to set a procedure for people to file complaints and have them reviewed, and for an outside agency to analyze complaints and make recommendations. What that procedure would be — and which agency should get that responsibility — are still subject to negotiation.

A spokesman for the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police says it is too early to determine what a negotiated bill would contain.

“I can tell you we are working closely with the proponents of the bill and legislators to try to craft something together,” Kevin Campbell, the group’s lobbyist, tells the Portland Tribune.

Proposals would empower the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to set independent procedures for receiving and handling complaints, and for the Criminal Justice Division within the Oregon Department of Justice to collect and analyze them.

“The problem is that some people do not feel comfortable going into a precinct or department that is engaged in that type of behavior, because they may see the individual (officer) who did that to them.” Chimuku says.

According to the NAACP report, 17 states provide for a commission to review and respond to such complaints.

“In many other states, the attorney general is the one who looks at patterns or practices,” Chimuku says. But she also says both sides agree that decision should be left to a future work group.

Unlike similar profiling laws in 17 states, Chimuku says it is unlikely that a negotiated bill would require police agencies in Oregon to collect information about police stops and searches, as has been proposed in HB 2001.

“We believe we are doing some things very well in Oregon,” Campbell says on behalf of the police chiefs. “We will work to ensure that our communities continue to have confidence in our police officers and agencies.”

A long history

Some Oregon police agencies have conducted their own data-gathering efforts, going back a decade or more. The Portland Police Bureau has collected such data in some form since 2001.

From Aug. 5 to Dec. 31, 2011, the bureau reported almost 25,000 stops, which broke down into these categories: Whites, 71.8 percent; blacks, 11.8 percent; Hispanics, 6.2 percent; Asians, 4.5 percent.

A state panel appointed by the governor has reviewed data, issued annual reports from 2005 to 2012, and focused on improved training of officers at the state public safety academy in Salem.

The panel’s 2012 report estimates that almost 2,000 officers have received special training since 2008.

However, the panel — known as the Law Enforcement Contacts Policy and Data Review Committee, and housed within the Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute at Portland State University — suspended its work after its grant funding ended in 2013.

The Portland Police Bureau responded to a 2009 report from the PSU institute, which remains active, in February 2014. The bureau changed to a new reporting system for traffic stops in 2011.

Although he made his comment last week in a different context — on proposed legislation governing use of body cameras by police — Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said the issue still turns on whether there is trust between police and the people they serve.

“The Police Bureau, like any agency, is continuously adopting and updating policy for how their officers do their work,” Hales says. “We are doing that with the public’s direct input and with transparency into what the rules are for how our officers operate.”

Corona, the Washington County resident, is working to set up a communications business to bridge cultural gaps. Elsewhere in the world, he says, police often have more sinister motives for stops.

“Our people get nervous when they are stopped, even when they have done nothing, just because it is something cultural,” he says.

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