Portland NLG Comments on Portland Police/Dept. of Justice Settlement Agreement

The Portland NLG submitted the following commentary to the City Council:

Dear Mayor Adams and City Commissioners:

Thank you for the continuing opportunity to weigh in on the Department of Justice/City of Portland Settlement Agreement. We know the City and the DOJ have worked very hard on drafting and modifying this agreement, and appreciate that effort, including the most recent changes. We hope, however, that the Agreement is not final and the City will continue to consider community input. Toward that end, we highlight some additional concerns here.

USE OF FORCE

During my testimony at the City Council meeting last Thursday, Mayor Adams asked for clarification on the difference between our proposed language for the use of force policy to require “the least amount of force necessary to achieve a lawful objective” and the current language of “only the force reasonably necessary to achieve a lawful objective.” Words have tremendous practical as well as symbolic value; the “least amount of force” connotes a fundamental shift in the Bureau’s approach to use of force. The use of the term “least amount of force” rather than what is “reasonably necessary” would create a more cautious approach.

We also support the specific recommendations and analysis made by Tom Steenson related to use of force, in his letter dated November 12, 2012.

OVERSIGHT AND ACCOUNTABILITY

We support the Citizen Review Committee’s request for extending the 21-day deadline for the CRC to resolve an appeal. (Paragraph 121). As the members of the CRC testified, they are all volunteers, dedicated volunteers, but many have jobs that make this timeframe to restrictive. In addition, the NLG offers volunteer advocates for the CRC hearings, and we require three weeks notice in order to find a volunteer advocate and allow adequate preparation time. Shortening this timeframe to 21 days will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to continue to offer this service.

We continue to urge the City to define the CRC review standard of “supported by the evidence” as “preponderance of the evidence” rather than the “reasonable person” standard, which has proved to be overly deferential. (Paragraph 61). A preponderance of the evidence standard is not only more easy for the public and the CRC to understand, it would enhance the legitimacy of the review process, something the DOJ agrees is currently lacking.

We appreciate that lawsuit payout information is included in the COCL semi-annual reviews, but urge the broadening of the category of information from just “settlements” to include judgments and jury awards. (Paragraph 170.e.v.). All three of these categories are important to help identify deficiencies in policy and training, and/or issues with particular officers.

For a Better World,

J. Ashlee Albies, Co-Chair
National Lawyers Guild
Portland, Oregon Chapter

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