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(left to right from top center): Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty speaks with  Shanice Clarke, director of community engagement for Portland Public Schools;  Lamar Wise, political coordinator for the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) of Oregon; Candace Avalos, advisor of student affairs at Portland State University and chair of the Citizens Review Committee; activist Devin Boss; Sophie Maziraga, resource manager at Street Roots; and Cameron Whitten, founder and CEO of Brown Hope, during Meet the Next Generation, a virtual conversation with BIPOC leaders, last weekend.
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 01 October 2020

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is aiming to increase police oversight and accountability with a new ballot measure and Rethink Portland, her call-to-action for an overhaul of community safety systems in Portland. 

“When we did the city budget a couple of months back, for my first time at City Hall, we received over 75,000 emails,” Hardesty told The Skanner. “We had over 700 people actually testify in support of reducing the police budget and reinvesting in community. What I know is that’s not a conversation or a problem that will be solved inside City Hall, so it’s really important to engage the community in a whole host of ways so they can help us reimagine what community safety looks like. That’s vital.

"All of us have a very different perspective based on our lived experience when we dial 911.”

jo ann hardesty skbreakfast 2019 introJo Ann Hardesty sits at the head table at The Skanner Foundation MLK Breakfast 2019The approach echoes that of Reimagine Oregon, a collaboration between activists, advocates and state legislators to compile several years’ worth of reports, findings, and recommendations into a cohesive roadmap of how the state should proceed to dismantle systemic racism in Oregon. Hardesty hopes that Rethink Portland will act as a tool to inform and to empower Portlanders to reassess what they truly need to feel safe in their city.  

“This will be an ongoing project because, of course, all the reforms that we need to make, the transformation we need to make, won’t happen in one budget cycle,” Hardesty told The Skanner. “It won’t happen in a two-year period. But if we can actually incorporate the community’s values in where we’re headed, it is a great opportunity to both have the public engage, and actually have them be able to see through our budgeting process that we’re making progress on the reforms we’re committed to.” 

Hardesty officially launched the initiative soon after hosting last week’s History of Police Reform, a virtual discussion streamed on Facebook Live with the Rev.LeRoy Haynes of the Albina Ministerial Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, Debbie Aiona of the League of Women Voters of Portland, and Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. 

candace avalos introCandace AvalosHardesty followed up on Saturday with a livestreamed discussion with young BIPOC voices in the community, with Shanice Clarke, director of community engagement for Portland Public Schools; Lamar Wise, political coordinator for the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) of Oregon; Candace Avalos, advisor of student affairs at Portland State University and chair of the Citizens Review Committee; Devin Boss, activist; Sophie Maziraga, resource manager at Street Roots; and Cameron Whitten, founder and CEO of Brown Hope. 

Wise told The Skanner that he got on the call still reeling from the news that Breonna Taylor’s killers would not face criminal charges, but that he was inspired by the collective vision represented in the group.

“I really just think it speaks to the power and diversity, even within the Black community, to get this work done,” Wise said.

lamar wise introLamar Wise“I really like what Candace said, which was that we’re really moving to this place where our movements are leader-less, but really we’re all the leaders in making that forward progress in making sure Black lives do matter. It really resonated with me, because I feel like it’s so easy for us to idolize someone or fall into this trap of who will be this hero to come and save us, when really it's going to take all of us to change this system because it's just so entrenched.”

Avalos agreed. 

“I feel like finally, someone is coming out with a comprehensive way to engage the community in a time that people are desperate for elected officials to act on their demands,” she told The Skanner.  

As chair of the CRC, Avalos said she noticed that public pressure had forced the PPB to be more collaborative with her committee, and to meet more regularly with them. 

“In the last couple of months, especially after the George Floyd killing and how Portland responded, the biggest thing that has been different is that people are paying attention,” Avalos told The Skanner. “I had gotten so many emails, messages from people who said they didn’t even know (the CRC) existed before.”

Legislating Oversight 

Rethink Portland was launched nearly in tandem with Measure 26-217, Hardesty’s police accountability initiative recently added to the November ballot. The measure would replace the current Independent Police Review agency with a new community police oversight board that would have the power to investigate police misconduct and to discipline officers. The board’s recommendations would also have more clout: If the PPB were to reject a policy suggested by the board, the board could then appeal to the City Council to vote to implement the policy.

While members of the board would be appointed by the City Council with a focus on diversity, the measure prohibits current law enforcement officers, or those who have experience or immediate family members in law enforcement, from serving. 

“History has shown that whenever we put law enforcement on a committee around reform, they become obstructionists,” Hardesty said. “They become advocates for the status quo. But nothing prevents (the board) from bringing in law enforcement as expert presenters.”

The board would be financed by at least five percent of the PPB's annual budget.

“It would be one of the most powerful community oversight (groups) in the nation, and really start to shift the paradigm in giving the community back power,” Wise told The Skanner. “Even for abolitionists or reformists, wherever you are in the spectrum, something we can all get behind is the community having more power. I think it’s a sweet spot.”

Measure 26-217 has the support of Mayor Ted Wheeler and city commissioners Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly. Notably, City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero opposes it. 

Avalos, who helped put the measure together, clarified that she was working and speaking in support of the measure independent of her role as chair of the CRC.

“The city auditor said it was hastily put together,” Avalos told The Skanner.

“What do you mean ‘hasty?’ We have been putting this together for decades.”

Avalos said the measure calls into question who is truly in charge: “Is it the leadership people elected, or a non-elected (police) union?” 

In the Details 

“As we know, accountability in policing has been an issue in the community for the whole 30 years I’ve been working on police reform,” Hardesty told The Skanner. “But that’s just one piece.”

Hardesty pointed out that only one person, psychologist David Corey, PhD, is responsible for the pre-employment psychological assessments of potential Portland Police officers. 

“There’s really no reason why we have one White guy in Lake Oswego making that decision,” Hardesty told The Skanner, adding that she would like to see Portland move “from one individual to a diverse panel of psychologists.”

Hardesty said that she wanted to see changes in both recruitment and training. Instead of focusing on hiring former military personnel, she suggested a mentoring program for interested high school students that would give them summer work experience and an introduction to community policing. 

“There’s been this very warped perception that only police can train police, so what ends up happening even at the state level is we train law enforcement from the beginning like it’s for war, and we start them off creating an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” Hardesty said.

Instead, she wants to see members of the community act as training co-facilitators. 

“Then (law enforcement officers) are not trained in a paramilitary way, then sent into the community expected to be Officer Friendly,” Hardesty said. 

<p">Rethink Portland has the support of at least one of her colleagues, with City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly telling The Skanner she wholeheartedly supports it.

“I am very excited to participate in these vital community conversations moving forward,” Eudaly said in an emailed statement. 

Commissioner Fritz declined to comment, saying she had not yet spoken to Hardesty about the initiative or been briefed on it. 

“The reality is that there’s a lot of work to do to change what our public safety and our first responder system looks like,” Hardesty said. “The public is demanding that we take action. We’ve known for a long time that the system has been broken, but we’ve never had both the political will and the public will line up so effectively to have these changes happen.” 

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