Oregon House panel finishes 10 bills to overhaul policing
Ten bills to overhaul Oregon policing practices got a bipartisan seal of approval from Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and House Republican Leader Christine Drazan.
All of them spoke before the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve amended versions of the bills, half of which go to a vote of the full House and half to the Legislature's joint budget panel because of their price-tag implications for state agencies. A few bills are pending, although they may not reach a committee vote.
Though none of the bills goes as far as some advocates of change want — for instance, there is no outright ban on tear gas or rubber bullets to disperse violence — they build on the work that lawmakers did in a 2020 special session called a month after the death of George Floyd triggered nationwide protests about police conduct toward racial and ethnic minorities.
Brown set up a task force to examine public safety standards and training, and a Racial Justice Council to look at broader aspects of racism in Oregon.
"During this past year, we have heard urban and rural Oregonians standing up to make their voices heard and calling for racial justice and police accountability, even in the midst of a pandemic, because the need for change is so pressing," she said before the House committee voted on Tuesday, April 6.
"We have responded with action… We are here to get these bills one step closer to the finish line."
Most of the task force's recommendations are incorporated in House Bill 3162, but the 10 bills cover a range of issues.
"Oregon is doing the work to reimagine how police interact with the communities they serve and how we hold officers and departments accountable," Rosenblum said. "It will help our communities build faith in law enforcement and in our justice system."
Rosenblum gave credit to the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police and the Oregon State Sheriffs Association for coming up with suggestions to advance the process.
Three of the current Judiciary Committee members also were involved in the 2020 bills. They are Democratic Chairwoman Janelle Bynum of Clackamas, a Black businesswoman who had an encounter with police in 2018 when someone reported her as a "suspicious person" while canvassing her district, and Republican Reps. Ron Noble of McMinnville and Rick Lewis of Silverton, retired police chiefs in their communities.
They and two other lawmakers were on a subcommittee focused on the policing bills.
"These folks have established an ability to work across the aisle in a way that few others could have conceived or predicted," Drazan said. "I could not be more proud that we can come together tonight in mutual support of a package of bipartisan amendments that will allow us to work together a more fair, equitable and transparent policing across our state."
One bill, in its amended version, sidesteps a controversy involving arbitrators asked to review police agency decisions to discipline or fire officers over alleged misconduct. If an arbitrator finds for the officer, the discipline is set aside.
The bill imposes a new legal test for arbitrators, who cannot overturn agency decisions if doing so "is inconsistent with the public interest in maintaining community trust, enforcing a higher standard of conduct for law enforcement officers and ensuring an accountable, fair and just disciplinary process."
But it does so in the context of setting up a 15-member commission that will recommend statewide standards for conduct and discipline — and those issues will no longer be subject to collective bargaining between police agencies and unions.
Noble said the current bills set in motion other processes by agencies and commissions that lawmakers will have to review over the next year or two, just as the half-dozen bills passed in 2020 set the stage for committee work this session.
"In some ways, they are more significant because we have improved on those," he said. "However, we have more work to do. But I appreciate the opportunity to come together In a time when our society is pretty split and torn apart."
Here are summaries of the 10 policing bills cleared by the House Judiciary Committee.
Bills headed for budget committee:
House Bill 2162: Police agencies with at least 100 officers must be accredited by July 1, 2025 — this covers most of Oregon's large agencies — and those with at least 35 officers by July 1, 2026. Accreditation means that agencies must meet minimum standards set by an organization designated by the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.
The Oregon Accreditation Alliance draws evaluators from the Oregon Association Chief of Police, Oregon State Sheriffs Association and the Oregon chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials. There is also a Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, but the only Oregon agencies it has accredited are the Washington County Sheriff's Office and Albany and Corvallis police.
The bill also requires the state to conduct equity training for police.
The bill adds two public members to the Board on Public Safety Standards and Training, one each nominated by the House speaker and Senate president, and that one board member must be from a historically underrepresented community.
House Bill 2928: Tear gas and nonlethal projectiles, such as rubber bullets, can be used for crowd control only if someone's conduct justifies police use of deadly physical force. Sound devices and strobe lights are barred. Police must evacuate injured people and allow access by emergency medical services. If police induce another agency to take actions barred by state law or court order, it is second-degree official misconduct, a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail and a $1,250 fine.
House Bill 2930: A new legal test is imposed on an arbitrator in any dispute between a police agency and an officer. The arbitrator cannot set aside or reduce disciplinary action against an officer if doing so "is inconsistent with the public interest in maintaining community trust, enforcing a higher standard of conduct for law enforcement officers and ensuring an accountable, fair and just disciplinary process." The matter also is not subject to collective bargaining between police agencies and unions.
The bill also sets up a 15-member commission to come up with statewide standards for police conduct and discipline.
House Bill 2932: Police agencies must take part in a use-of-force data collection operated by the FBI. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission can analyze FBI data and submit an annual report to the Legislature.
House Bill 3145: Within 10 days of final discipline, a police agency must report the officer's name, employer and facts underlying the discipline — including a copy of any decision — to the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. The state agency already maintains a database of officers whose certifications have been suspended or revoked; disciplinary action would be added.
Bills headed to a vote of the full House
House Bill 2513: Police must have training in child and adult cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and agencies must certify that officers have such training. Police also are required to summon emergency medical services if "tactically feasible" and have access to communications.
House Bill 2929: Police must report misconduct by officers or violations of standards. The bill specifies who should receive reports (supervisors), when they should start investigations (within 72 hours) and when they should be completed (three months). It also requires notice to the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training in most instances.
House Bill 2936: The Department of Public Safety Standards and Training must investigate the backgrounds of potential officers, who attend the state public safety academy in Salem — including financial and psychological information. The bill also says: "Participation in racist organizations and displays of symbols of racism or racial supremacy are at odds with the position of trust and authority law enforcement officers occupy in our community."
The bill also requires police agencies to set standards for speech and expression by officers both in and outside the course of their employment.
House Bill 3059: Police authority to disperse "unlawful assemblies" is modified.
House Bill 3355: Police assigned to work crowd management in cities over 150,000 (Portland, Eugene, Salem) shall wear identification — either a name or number — and something that signifies the officer's jurisdiction, such as "police" or "sheriff." This does not apply to the Oregon State Police.
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