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Regarding Portland City Council’s Failure to Adopt the Police Accountability Committee’s Recommendations for Implementing the Voter-Approved Police Oversight System

Adopted by unanimous consensus at Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business on December 3, 2023

In November 2020, a sweeping super-majority of 82% of Portland voters approved a measure authorizing the creation of a new police oversight system to investigate and respond to police misconduct. A new oversight board and City department will replace the existing Independent Police Review. 

A Police Accountability Commission (PAC) worked from December 2021 to August 2023 to develop recommendations for implementing the new police oversight system. As reported by The Skanner, the PAC made every effort to include City Commissioners and law enforcement leadership in the planning process, and they were met with indifference. 

This lack of engagement makes the pruned and altered City Code package approved by City Council on November 15 that much more insulting. They have substituted their own arrogance and political calculation for the voice of the voters and years of community conversations. They have shrunk the size of the new oversight board, invented a nominating committee with significant guaranteed law enforcement representation, and introduced a requirement that board members be free of “objective demonstrated bias for or against law enforcement.”

This requirement is vague, overly broad, and likely to result in excluding people who have advocated in public debate or protest against the current principles and practices of local police forces. Supporters of the status quo will not be suspected of bias for law enforcement– despite the fact that there are many examples of different ways community safety is protected around the world, and despite the fact that both a majority of Portland voters and the Department of Justice have determined that the flaws of the Portland Police Bureau are persistent and severe.

The City Council has not acted in good faith, and they should not be trusted to take the lead in establishing the new police oversight system. As reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), Mayor Ted Wheeler publicly expressed a desire to include police officers on the oversight board, Commissioner Mingus Mapps publicly questioned the funding mechanism, and Commissioner Rene Gonzalez publicly suggested that the 2020 measure could be discounted because maybe a vote today would not play out exactly the same. Also reported by OPB, Commissioner Dan Ryan defended City Council’s changes to the PAC recommendations by saying that public testimony for and against them showed City Council had “struck a good balance” between competing interests.

Voters duly approved a measure, which directed the creation of the PAC, which duly developed their recommendations with broad community input. The only interest that City Council should consider is whether the final City Code language faithfully represents the process set in motion by the 82% “Yes” vote on Measure 26-217.

BIPOC community leaders and voters’ rights advocates have already detailed all the failings of the adopted City Code language more thoroughly and authoritatively than we have here. What we can and must do is draw on our Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community and stewardship to condemn the immorality and injustice of City Council’s attempts to thwart the obvious will of Portland voters. 

So many in our city must live in fear of an unaccountable and inequitable police force. We call upon our fellow Quakers, our siblings who have faith that the world’s cries for justice and peace will be answered, and all people of good will to make your voices heard at this critical point in time. Tell the City Council: Respect the will of the voters. Remember your duty to work with the community to achieve public safety, instead of setting yourself above us, and act accordingly.

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