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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Even After Changes, the PPA Still Doesn't Like Proposed Police Oversight Reforms

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 6:02 PM

IPRcode_magnum.jpg
  • Illustration by Glenn Harvey Aguilar
Hours after the Portland Police Association appeared at city hall to celebrate the "collaboration" that led to a wide-ranging deal on a new labor contract and federal reforms, President Daryl Turner found himself back in city council chambers this afternoon on a related subject.

And, this time, he wasn't there to be nice. He brought an unsubtle threat.

If the Portland City Council insists on approving reforms meant to air out the police discipline process and let the Independent Police Review Division directly interview cops—without first trying to negotiate with the PPA—Turner warned he might file an unfair labor practice complaint that would mire the effort in months of litigation.

The reforms flow from the Department of Justice settlement that rapped the cops for excessive use of force. This morning's peace deal, however, explicitly left them unresolved.

"That could happen," Turner told the council when Commissioner Nick Fish asked what would happen if the city ignored his entreaty and did what it wanted anyway.

Whether that actually happens (not to mention whether the PPA would even win if it did file a challenge) is another matter. But it was a strong enough threat that the city council agreed to further delay a vote on the reforms in hopes of sitting down with Turner and looking for some kind of middle ground that's already proved elusive.

"We can sit down and have that conversation," Turner said, reserving the right to send the dispute up to the Oregon Employment Relations Board. "We were not part of the process."

Nor was Turner the only factor in the decision to hold off. Police accountability advocates repeated their own insistence that the proposals don't go far enough. In particular, they decried changes revealed last week that softened language in a bid to win support from city commissioners and an initially reluctant Police Chief Mike Reese.

And that all means—nearly two months after IPR Director Constantin Severe and City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade first presented reforms they'd been working up for months—a vote on the most substantial proposals won't happen until January 8 at the earliest. And likely even later than that.

"I'm quite willing to have a conversation," Severe says. "Our goal is trying to have that median point between the extremes we heard today. Our goal is trying to have something that is legally enforceable and at the same time move the city forward."

I recounted the gist of the changes in this week's Hall Monitor. One of those changes—making it so IPR investigators still needed a police liaison to force officers to testify, instead of doing so on its own authority—had been meant to appease critics like Reese and Turner. Reese was persuaded.

Turner was not. In remarks very similar to the ones he delivered at the first hearing in October, he said he still didn't like the idea philosophically and that the change didn't matter.

That led to a spirited debate with city commissioners about what, exactly, he didn't like about it. Fish, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, and Mayor Charlie Hales, the city's police commissioner, all took turns going back and forth with Turner. Hales' cheerleading for the reforms, in fact, was a striking departure from what seemed to be a disinterested mien in October.

When Turner complained that the changes give IPR too much power over discipline, by letting them do independent investigations (something they're actually already allowed to do under city code) and disagree with internal police findings on misconduct charges, Hales parried with a sharp line.

"That's why they're called "independent,'" the mayor said.

(After the hearing, Severe reminded me that having a police employee compel a cop to talk to the IPR is already current practice, even though it's not currently enshrined in city code. Internal affairs realized not doing that was silly and came up with an informal workaround.)

Dan Handelman, right, of Portland Copwatch tells the council he thinks the new reforms are watered down.
  • Denis C. Theriault
  • Dan Handelman, right, of Portland Copwatch tells the council he thinks the new reforms are "watered down."

Fritz seemed inclined to wait even before Turner spoke. She'd said as much in my column this week and kept asking advocates whether they might get on board after some more talks next year. She proposed a handful of technical amendments and suggested council could let the less-controversial reforms pass while continuing to haggle over what's left.

She also heeded concerns from Kristen Chambers of the National Lawyers Guild about something that's still in the provisions: Why a police liaison still has to hang out the same room with the IPR investigator and cop after giving his or her admonition to testify.

"Neither side is happy at this point," she said. "It seems like there hasn't been enough discussion or understanding."

But even those noncontroversial items are still cause for angst. Commissioner Steve Novick, both this morning and this afternoon, complained about federally mandated changes to investigative timelines. According to the deal worked out with the feds, the city must complete investigations and any appeals within 180 days.

That timeline, and the proposed IPR changes, include a special edict for the work of the city's Citizen Review Committee, a board of volunteers tasked with deciding if misconduct investigations produce "reasonable" results. Their part of the process, if someone appeals a finding by the police bureau and invokes it, must finish within 21 days.

Currently, appeals can take a couple of months to reviewed and voted on. Even that current workload can be bruising. Two new CRC members in recent weeks have stepped down because of the time commitment and scrutiny their decisions receive.

It came out today officially that the city tried to fight the 21-day deadline during negotiations, but that the feds wouldn't budge and want the city to see how it does before even entertaining changes. Novick said US Attorney for Oregon Amanda Marshall told him the same recently.

"I'm very concerned we'll lose people from the CRC if they're faced with a timeline they can't meet," Novick said.

Some advocates, meanwhile, would be happy to wait far longer than January for a vote. They want to see what US Judge Michael Simon decides after a February "fairness hearing" on the federal agreement—in hopes he might put some pressure on the city, the IPR, and the PPA to negotiate something even stronger.

"The revised changes are a huge disappointment," said Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. "They're a watered-down version of a proposal the community thought didn't go far enough. The city council should delay voting."

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