One the biggest problems cited by federal investigators who raked our "byzantine" system of police oversight over the coals in a report this fall was the troubling long time it took for misconduct investigations to actually run the gantlet of findings, decisions, and appeals: On average, more than a year—and, in some noteworthy cases, much longer.
And, so, changes were announced: A settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice announced last month would shrink investigations to a mere 180 days. Further, the agreement has charged the city volunteer panel that handles appeals, the Citizen Review Committee (CRC), with completing its part of the process in a mere 21 days, down from the 60 or more it currently takes.
The feds and Mayor Sam Adams' office have their hearts in the right places—quick discipline sends a much stronger message to cops and citizens. But, it turns out, no one ever asked the CRC itself about whether that speed-up is workable. During last night's regular CRC meeting, Chairman Jamie Troy announced he would quit the panel if that new timeline wasn't eased. That point will now be raised during a hearing at city hall today where community concerns to the agreement will be taken up.
"If it comes to pass, I plan to tender my resignation," said Troy, a full-time attorney, suggesting only retirees would have time for the job under the sped-up deadlines.
Troy and other members plan to urge a 60-day benchmark instead.
"I don't think it's possible to do a good job using our procedure in 21 days," Troy said, explaining the process. First, appellants have to file their appeals. Then the CRC assigns them public advocates to review their case. While all that's happening, individual members also must take time from their day jobs to read case files during city business hours. (Members aren't allowed to take the thick, confidential binders home, where they can be read at their leisure.)
Troy said he'd been invited to a meeting with the feds that wound up canceled and another member, Dave Denecke, said a second meeting on the CRC never covered the question of timing.
Independent Police Review Division director Mary-Beth Baptista reminded the panel that the agreement called for adding members to the CRC—up to 11—and also that the feds held a pair of conference calls to solicit community concerns before the settlement was unveiled. One of those calls, however, was actually held during last month's CRC meeting. Baptista also cited a federal gag order when asked by the CRC members if her shop had weighed in on the new timeline.
"It just strikes me as odd," Troy replied, "that we would be relegated to participating in a conference call when they're specifically looking at citizen oversight of the Portland Police Bureau and changing our timelines. It's curious."
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