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Portland, Feds Reach Tentative Agreement to Curb Police Violence

Both higher-ranking officers and rank-and-file officers would be held accountable for improper use of force during protests, while the Justice Department would have final approval of body camera policies.

(TNS) — The city of Portland and the Oregon Department of Justice have reached agreement on several changes to bring the city back into compliance with the demands of a 2014 settlement designed to curb police use of excessive force.

Two months after a federal judge directed all parties to return to mediation to work out lingering differences, all involved have reached a pact that will go before City Council for a vote later this month.

There are two main clauses added as a result of the latest talks.

First, the city agreed that not only higher-ranking, command officers would be investigated and held accountable for improper authorization or use of force during protests in 2020 but so would rank-and-file officers.

Second, the Justice Department reserves final approval on any body camera policy that the city negotiates with the police union.

The original settlement followed a federal investigation that found Portland officers used excessive force against people with mental illness. It called for widespread changes to use-of-force and Taser policies, training, supervision and oversight, a restructuring of police crisis intervention services and quicker investigations into alleged police misconduct.

In April, the Justice Department issued a formal notice to the city that it had failed to meet key reforms under the settlement, citing inappropriate police use and management of force during 2020′s racial justice protests, inadequate training and subpar supervision by higher-ups.

The Justice Department then outlined nine steps the city should take to meet the terms of the settlement, which included adoption of a body-worn camera program for all officers.

In November, some community activists who have been parties to the settlement — the Albina Ministerial Alliance’s Coalition for Justice and Police Reform and the Mental Health Alliance — had expressed concern in court that amendments to the settlement didn’t ensure that the Police Bureau will bar officers from previewing the camera footage before giving a statement to investigators after using deadly force.

Under the negotiated pact, the city can continue to negotiate with the police union a policy on the future use of body-worn cameras for police.

But if the Justice Department doesn’t support the policy, then it can haul the city to court to seek court-ordered enforcement of an appropriate policy.

The Justice Department has advised the city that officers should write their initial use-of-force reports without viewing body camera video. Officers could later view the footage and write a supplemental report, Justice Department lawyers have said. The federal lawyers also have advised the city that it should control access to the body-camera video and that supervisors should have access to the recordings.

Under the latest agreement, the city also will:

— Fund an outside consultant to review Portland police use of force and response to protests in 2020 and use the findings to help identify training needs for officers.

— Fund and hire a civilian dean of police training. The agreement outlines the separate roles the civilian dean overseeing police training and the training division’s police captain will have. The civilian academic director will have final say on lesson plan approval and ensure training adheres to police policy. The captain will handle administrative responsibilities, managing trainers and class assignments.

— Ensure officer reports on force and after-action reviews by supervisors show who wrote each report and review with all dates and times noted.

— Have the city’s Independent Police Review office investigate and identify any lieutenants or supervisors of higher rank from the specialized crowd control Rapid Response Team who directed or allowed officers to violate the bureau’s force policy and failed to ensure officers and supervisors completed required use-of-force reports or reviews from May 29, 2020, through Nov. 16, 2020. Once the supervisors are identified, the police chief and police commissioner would hold them accountable for violating any bureau policies on use of force.

The newest clause added says: “The Parties affirm the obligation in this Agreement … to investigate any sworn member if, during the investigations of Lieutenants and above … information is discovered suggesting that any sworn member may have violated PPB policy or this Agreement.”

Community activists had urged that sergeants be included in these investigations and also be held accountable, as they’re often the on-the-street supervisors closest to the officers using force.

Portland police used force more than 6,000 times during those months, according to the Justice Department. Police sometimes targeted people who attended protests but weren’t involved in any violence or focused on people simply because they were slow in walking away when ordered to leave, the Justice Department previously reported.

Federal lawyers also highlighted the repeated “misunderstanding of constitutional limits on force” with officers conflating active versus passive resistance as the basis for firing rubber bullets and other less-lethal impact munitions during the protests. Supervisors frequently failed to investigate or analyze their officers’ use of force and gave blanket approval of force with no real analysis, they found.

— Have the City Council and city auditor each draft and give the Justice Department their plans on how the city will transition from the Independent Police Review office to the voter-approved Community Police Oversight Board.

The city would adopt whichever plan the Justice Department deems acceptable.

The auditor has pushed the city to make sure the Independent Police Review staff and supervisors are guaranteed their jobs or other city jobs in the future to encourage them not to leave before the new board is in place and operating.

The city, according to the agreement, “will comply with any collective bargaining obligations it may have related to the Oversight Board, which the City agrees to fulfill expeditiously and in compliance with its obligation to bargain in good faith."

This paves the way for continued oversight of Portland police by the Justice Department for at least another three years as the federal agency ensures that the city’s voter-approved community police oversight system actually works. City voters overwhelmingly passed an initiative more than a year ago to create a civilian board to investigate police misconduct and independently discipline officers. It remains in the earliest stages of formation.

— Identify the overtime costs that stem from training police in annual police budgets.

— Share the bureau’s annual report with community members in each of the bureau’s patrol precincts before the end of September each year.

The proposed amendments to the settlement are anticipated to go before City Council for a vote on Jan. 26.

U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon will then schedule a so-called fairness hearing on the amendments before deciding whether to adopt them as part of the settlement.

City lawyers have signed the negotiated amendments, but the city didn’t admit that it had failed to meet the settlement requirements.

The Albina Ministerial Alliance’s Coalition for Justice and Police Reform and the Mental Health Alliance “have advised that they do not object to the Parties having no further mediation sessions and the Court scheduling a fairness hearing to consider the proposed amendments,” according to a status report filed late Monday in court by lawyers for the city and federal Justice Department.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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