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Committee members listen to a policy proposal at a July 2019 meeting of the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing. (Photo/The Skanner Archives)
By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 01 April 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Mayor Ted Wheeler, has proposed that the Portland’s community police oversight committee go on a two-month hiatus to figure out how to fill nearly half of the group’s vacancies and hire more staff.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the idea comes five years after the predecessor of the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing was disbanded due to lack of training for its members, lack of city support and dwindling membership.

Similar problems now affect the the current panel.

The 13-member group has only seven seats filled. There’s a lack of city staff to support or facilitate its meetings. Some members appointed to the group complained of a lack of training before they began their service.

Wheeler, appearing before the committee Wednesday by video conference, suggested the group “take a breather,” for 60 days to allow Mike Myers, the city’s community safety transition director, to work to hire adequate administrative support staff, provide more rigorous training and find strong facilitators “to make it successful.”

Committee members had mixed reactions.

Member Ann Campbell said taking a 60-day break would be “very, very concerning” due to the “lack of community voices” on police oversight for that period of time.

The committee, she said, “is in a crisis right now.”

Member Zeenab Fowlk said she’s been concerned about “less police engagement” at committee meetings and the lack of facilitators to help guide the group’s work.

Dan Handelman, who attended the meeting as leader of the watchdog group Portland Copwatch, said he’d hate to see the committee stop meeting “just like the other one.”

Old problems repeat in new committee

The committee’s predecessor, the Community Oversight Advisory Board, also was put on a two-month hiatus in 2016 before it was completely disbanded. The city was without community oversight of police reforms for almost two years once the initial board dissolved amid acrimony and an exodus of leaders and members.

In November 2018, this second iteration - the Portland Committee on Community Engaged Policing (PCCEP) - was created and held its first meeting.

The committee is a key part of the settlement agreement reached between the city and U.S. Department of Justice that followed federal investigators’ findings in 2012 that Portland officers too often used excessive force on people suffering from mental illness. It called for significant changes to police policies, training and oversight and was adopted by U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon in 2014.

Former committee co-chair Elliott Young said many of the committee’s challenges are not new.

Young said when he left the committee in August he spoke to the mayor about the problem of retaining and recruiting members and inadequate staff support.

“It’s surprising to me there wasn’t a plan in place from back then for improving staffing,” he said.

Sam Adams, a member of Wheeler’s staff who had negotiated the city’s settlement with the Justice Department when he was mayor, told the group that Wheeler will make a decision early next week. Adams said he had recommended the 60-day break for the committee.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Hager said it’s not lost on the U.S Department of Justice that the very same problems that led to the first community board’s failure is plaguing this committee: attrition, lapses in appointing new members, inadequate training and administrative support.

“To have those problems repeat is a serious concern,” he said.

For more information about the PCCEP, visit their webpage.

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