Portland City Council sends police oversight to November ballot
As more than two months of Black Lives Matter protests continue, the Portland City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved sending an independent civilian police oversight board to the voters in November.
The board proposed by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty would replace the city's current police oversight office and place it under a board of appointed community members while giving it broad powers to subpoena officers, spark policy changes and investigate complaints of misconduct.
The vote followed testimony by dozens of people supporting the move, some of whom either said they had been subjected to police misconduct or whose relatives were. Some called on Mayor Ted Wheeler to turn over the police bureau to Hardesty's control, and his opponent in the November runoff, Sarah Iannarone, accused him of a "complete void of leadership."
"This is not the end of police reform or the end of reimagining what community safety looks like," Hardesty said, connecting the vote to recent moves by the council to cut police bureau funding. "I recognize that change is hard ... but I want to assure Portland that this is about community accountability and community safety."
The union representing the Portland Police Association had sent the City Council a letter raising concerns about the proposed measure's legality, but did not testify Wednesday.
The sole testimony in opposition came from the city's elected Auditor, Mary Hull Caballero, who oversees the city's current civilian police review office. She faulted the push by Hardesty — which featured no public hearings, only private discussions with select groups by invitation — for a lack of inclusion and transparency, and noted that many of the complaints about the current board stem from state laws and the police union contract, and "magical thinking won't make these existing constraints go away."
Hull Caballero urged the council to take more time to work out the details of a beefed up board, "so the people of Portland get a better oversight system not just a different one."
Hull Caballero was praised by members of the council, and several said they shared her concerns.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, for instance, noted that "we also need changes in state law, we need to bargain in our police contract and we need to change city code ... so while we are responsible for moivng this (measure) forward, there are a lot of pieces of it that aren't entirely within our control."
Commissioner Amanda Fritz went further, saying, " I frankly don't know if this is going to work."
She cited an arbitrator's ruling in 2016 that blasted the city for using a ballot measure to circumvent bargaining with the police union as required by law. She said success in making the changes that would require a "full-court press" by elected leaders and the community, and praised Hardesty and Wheeler's leadership on the issue.
Wheeler, for his part, said he agreed with Hull Caballero that the vote risked making little change if laws and the union contract is not changed with it. But he said it was worth the risk, as the vote would respond to a widespread call for more police accountability that he's heard from many people, a sentiment he said is "driving thousands of people to the streets of this city virtually each and every day."
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