West Linn holds first police accountability meeting
Seven months after a racially motivated and illegal arrest by West Linn police made national headlines and left the city scrambling to ensure it wouldn't happen again, the city held its first Police Oversight and Accountability Task force meeting last week.
The diverse group of community members met with city representatives, Acting WLPD Chief Peter Mahuna a and liaison from the Clackamas County Peace Officers Association (CCPA) for its first facilitated discussion Wednesday, Sept. 23.
The initial meeting primarily served as an introduction for all task force members, alternate members and liaisons as well as a forum to discuss meeting logistics.
The City Council selected community members for the task force, which will provide the council recommendations regarding policy and procedure reforms at WLPD. The task force's main purpose is to form a permanent structure for police oversight in the city.
Clackamas County facilitators Erin Ruff, a West Linn resident, and Martine Coblentz, a county equity and inclusion officer and prosecutor, are working with the committee to run meetings and guide conversation, especially for the more difficult topics.
City Councilors Jules Walters and Bill Relyea are serving as liaisons from the council to the task force. City Manager Jerry Gabrielatos and City Attorney Tim Ramis are also working with the group, along with Shannon Lee Erskine from the city attorney's office.
Mahuna will serve as WLPD liaison, and Adam Peterson, a Clackamas County Sheriff's Deputy and CCPA vice president, represents the region's union bargaining entity.
The 11 task force members and four alternates are all West Linn residents from a variety of personal and professional background including an African American prosecutor with her own history as a victim of sexual assault and domestic violence, a 20-year West Linn resident who formerly ran pyshcological services for the Oregon Department of Corrections, a former Sheriff's Deputy from Michigan now living in West Linn and raising five adopted kids including a biracial son, and several more members who have family members serving in law enforcement, serving time in prison or both.
Members of the task force are: Kristina Garcia Siegel, Nicole Dawson, Sharron Furno, Sonia Borgelt, Autumn Mercado, Debbie Wong, Linda Hamel, Lonnie Webb, Michael Harper, Nancy Noye and Rishi Bansal. The four alternates, who will fully participate in meeting discussions but only vote when a member is unable to, are: Fred Groves, Evan Wickersham, Surja Tjahaja and Tim Mullins.
During the task force discussions of how meetings will run, one member, Nicole Dawson, a biracial former Army officer, asked if all members felt comfortable discussing and voting on possibly controversial police policy recommendations in front of actively serving members of law enforcement.
"The very concept of us bringing up ideas that might be very threatening to systems — I'm not saying we're all talking about defunding or anything like that. But I think there's some triggering conversations that we're going to be having," Dawson said. "It's not just a one-off, like, oh, this person might rub someone the wrong way and be targeted. I mean, we as a whole group might be dealing with some very uncomfortable topics."
Coblentz said that when concerns like that arise, the concerned person could reach out privately to one or either facilitator to discuss a way to openly share their thoughts while still feeling safe. Coblentz added in their experience as facilitators, she and Ruff had helped other public entities navigate very difficult conversations.
Evan Wickersham, a task force alternate and lawyer with experience bargaining for police unions, added that making sure everyone feels safe to express their opinions should be an ongoing conversation for the group.
The task force next meets Wednesday, Oct. 7 and plans to meet every other Wednesday.
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