It goes without saying that the Portland Police Bureau is viewed with a certain amount of suspicion by many residents. This is particularly true in North and Northeast Portland, where, in recent years, the fatal shootings of James Jahar Perez and Kendra James by officers — and those officers' exoneration — have fueled the perception that the police are largely unaccountable for their actions.
But the bureau is meeting this criticism head-on. Under the tenure of Chief Derrick Foxworth, the bureau's protocols on the use of force by officers underwent a review by an independent organization, and the bureau's Citizen Review Committee intensely examined officers' conduct and sought to improve the way officers interact with the community.
While these measures have helped to make the bureau more accountable and accessible, said Citizen Review Committee Chair Hank Miggins, more steps can be taken. The committee investigates complaints about police misconduct, and Miggins and the committee want more contact with the community. To accomplish that goal, they are forming a Community Advisory Council to serve as a liaison between the committee and Portland residents.
"The whole idea of the Community Advisory Council is to have a wider range of contact with the community relative to police oversight," Miggins said.
He added that, in addition to making the committee's job easier, the council will help to raise the committee's profile and let the public know that people are actively working to improve the bureau's community policing practices.
"I was disappointed with the lack of understanding in the community about what the Citizen Review Committee is all about," Miggins explained. "We've had meetings in the community — every other meeting is someplace out in the city. In terms of generating more interest, I thought the council could accomplish that."
Miggins said the details of how the committee will recruit members for the council and how the council will gather information from the community have yet to be worked out. Essentially, though, the council will broaden the committee's reach in terms of learning how people feel about their interaction with the police, which will in turn give the committee more information to present to the police bureau.
"We haven't yet figured out how that structure is going to work," Miggins said. "The reason is, I don't want to dictate to the council how it should be organized — I just want to see it formed so we have a better connection with the people. If they choose to report to the full CRC or just to the chair, that will be up to them."
For starters, the committee has invited about 200 people from all parts of the city to form the council, most of them members of community service organizations.
"We're throwing it wide open to all kinds of groups in the city," Miggins said. "These are the people who have more contact with everyday citizens than we (the committee members) do."
Miggins said interested members of the community can get involved with the council by coming to a Citizen Review Committee meeting. However, that meeting has yet to be scheduled; watch future editions of The Skanner for details.
Miggins said he doesn't expect Foxworth's problems — sexual harassment complaints against him are being investigated — to negatively impact the committee's work, or to interfere with the formation of the council. Acting Chief Rosie Sizer, he said, has contacted and supports the committee since she was appointed by Mayor Tom Potter to fill in while Foxworth is on paid leave.
"She (Sizer) came to the first meeting we had after she stepped in," Miggins said. "I think we'll find her to be just as open and cooperative as Chief Foxworth was."
Miggins said he believes that the formation of the Community Advisory Council is the natural next step to take in the course of the committee's work. While many cities have independent citizen oversight of police conduct, he thinks Portland's committee is one of the most effective and the most transparent.
He cited the bureau's slow response in providing the committeewith an over-view of its attempts to do away with biased-based policing as an example of one area he thinks needs improvement but added that overall, the bureau cooperates when questioned about problems.
"We see eye-to-eye with the bureau on most things," he said. "We haven't had a lot of fights. By and large, we're getting along well.
"If we ever get to a point where we're not having any fights," he added with a laugh, "I'm going to have to re-examine how we're doing things."