After months of protests, measure gives Portlanders chance to revamp police oversight system

City Measure 26-217 gives Portlanders the chance to amend city code and establish a new oversight committee made up of civilians.

PORTLAND, Ore — After months of nightly anti-police protests, Portland voters have the chance to revamp their police oversight system.

City Measure 26-217 gives Portlanders the chance to amend city code and establish a new oversight committee made up of civilians.

The committee would be independent of any existing city bureau but would receive at least 5% of the Police Bureau’s budget.

They would have the power to subpoena officers to testify and impose discipline, including firing. Right now, according to the Portland Police Union contract, the only person who can fire an officer is the police commissioner Mayor Ted Wheeler.

Back in July the city council, including Mayor Wheeler, voted unanimously to send the measure to the ballot. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is all for it.

“This would bring true community accountability,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “Good police officers shouldn’t fear this measure. They should embrace it because over and over and over again, we’ve seen outrageous behavior by police and they were not held accountable.”

Opponents are vocal, too. President of the Portland Police Association Daryl Turner sent a letter to council blasting the measure, calling it “irredeemably vague”.

Noting it was written without input from the police union or the bureau, he argues it fails to provide a number of details about the committee.

“How many members will be on the board? Who nominates them? What are their terms?” he wrote. “If a board member acts inappropriately, who has the authority to remove them?”

The measure, he argued, is proposed on a “we’ll fill in the blanks later” basis.

Then there are opponents who work entirely outside the law enforcement community.

Portland City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero is so against the measure, she held a press conference prior to that council vote, calling it “…an unvetted, unrefined oversight model.”

For those wondering about the connection, the city’s current police oversight system exists under the umbrella of the City Auditor’s office. The Independent Police Review and its Citizen Review Committee is essentially a group of attorneys, HR professionals and everyday Portlanders who have the power to investigate allegations of misconduct and recommend discipline.

RELATED: Here’s how police oversight works in Portland

But they don’t have the power to carry that discipline out. It’s been a big criticism of IPR, which would be dismantled by Measure 26-217.

Still, the city auditor, in the midst of a slideshow laying out her case argued this measure is not the way to make change.

“We don’t know who is going to run this thing. Who is going to hold it accountable? Which commission will it be assigned to in a commission form of government? Or will it be a free-floating operation?” she said. “It’s breathtaking actually and not in a good way.”

IPR, for comparison, has a current budget of $2.8 million.

Under Measure 26-217’s stipulation that the new commission get 5% of the police bureau’s budget, they’d be operating with almost five times IPR’s total: close to $11 million.

Much of the power promised in the measure, Caballero argued, is in direct opposition with the Portland Police Association contract, which is up for re-negotiation in January.

An attorney for the union has said they have serious concerns about the legality of beginning those negotiations with this measure in place.

Commissioner Hardesty argues, if Portland voters approve this measure, the city will have the power of public opinion behind them at the negotiation table next year.

“Unions are about protecting working conditions and they’re about protecting hours,” Hardesty said. “Unions should never be used to protect bad employees that you are not as the employer able to fire.”

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