Portland City Council recently voted to appeal U.S. District Judge Michael Simon’s order requiring hearings with the judge, advocates and the city on the progress in maintaining the police reforms settlement with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
In voting to appeal Judge Simon’s ruling — Mayor Charlie Hales and the City Council are more or less telling the community, “We’ve got this.”
The agreement between the DOJ, advocates and the city requires that the Portland Police Bureau change its policies around training, crisis intervention, officer accountability, community engagement and oversight, to name a few. The agreement also recommends creating a mental health center for people experiencing crisis.
We commend the city and police who have already begun to implement many of these requirements. In some cases, it has resulted in programs that we support, such as the walking beat patrols in downtown Portland and along Hawthorne Boulevard.
But we must not collectively forget why the settlement was needed in the first place: a pattern and practice of excessive force against people experiencing mental health problems, followed by the requisite lip service from City Hall.
The reality is that the police reform the community seeks will actually never materialize without the DOJ and the courts mandating the city to do so, and providing the court the power to enforce those change is part and parcel with change itself.
When James Chasse, an unarmed mentally ill man was beaten to death at the hands of the Portland Police, then-Mayor Tom Potter called for reforms. It was then-Mayor Sam Adams’ turn at the helm. Now Mayor Charlie Hales says he’s the man. The reality is the police union is stronger than any one mayor or elected official in the city.
More so, Mayor Charlie Hales and City Council should simply pay Multnomah County outright for a mental health crisis center. The city can’t yell fire for transportation costs and then balk at the idea of creating revenue for a mental health center. There’s really no excuse.
If city officials were serious about making sure the reforms outlined in the settlement are cemented into city policy, they must own up to where they have failed in the past and swallow the pill of additional oversight.
Without a third-party watchdog we fear we’re simply just moving policy to policy, chief to chief and mayor to mayor.