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Cop-review group is all ears

Despite muted response so far, police-complaint division still seeks input

Almost no one in Portland seems to have much to say about the city's Independent Police Review division to its face.

The division opened a public comment period on Dec. 15. As of Wednesday, a total of seven Rose City residents had made suggestions for improving the process of lodging complaints against the Portland Police Bureau.

Of those seven, only one was an average citizen. The others had ties to either the Citizen Review Committee affiliated with the division, watchdog group Portland Copwatch or the city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement.

'I expected more, I really did,' said Pete Sandrock, assistant director of the police review division.

Part of Sandrock's expectations for more responses is rooted in the brief, but controversial, history of the division, created in 2001.

Sandrock said the division hopes the feedback, due by Tuesday, will help shape its governing rules. The reason the division invited public comments in the first place, he said, was to help accomplish four goals: more consistency in handling complaints; greater transparency; decisions more in line with the city ordinance that created the division; and giving lower-level staff increased discretion on which complaints to pursue.

'That would be good if all that were true,' said Dan Handelman, co-founder of Portland Copwatch, who submitted his ideas in writing. 'But they've held no public meetings and will produce no public reports on the input they get. Who could know that the public could review and comment on their procedures since Dec. 15?'

In response, Sandrock said the division was happy to review any comments it received, and left it at that.

Handelman's critique of the public process calls to mind the division's ugliest public moment since its creation in December 2001 Ñ the resignation in August 2003 of five of nine Citizen Review Committee members who called the review system broken.

They criticized the fact that Director Richard Rosenthal has unfettered access to Police Bureau records and believes he has the authority to overrule some committee recommendations. Complaints that he thinks require investigation are referred to the Police Bureau's Internal Affairs Division for deeper vetting.

Despite plaudits from city Auditor Gary Blackmer, who oversees the review division, criticism has been almost as steady as perceived progress. For every success the review division experiences, such as its mediation process for complainants and cops, there are public counterweights.

Last May, the deputy director of the Department of Justice's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, on a visit to Portland, criticized the division for allowing police to investigate complaints against police.

Two months later, the Albina Ministerial Alliance tried to broker a deal with former city Commissioner Jim Francesconi that would have given the citizen committee broader power to compel officers to testify and determine on its own what to investigate.

Handelman, in his four-page letter to Rosenthal, said Rosenthal's broad authority needed to be checked. He also suggested that court decisions should not determine whether the review division looked into a complaint.

'Guidelines suggest that if a person is acquitted for an offense for which they say they were falsely arrested, that is a sufficient 'remedy' to their complaint,' Handelman wrote. 'The complainant may file a second complaint after the criminal trial if they still feel there was misconduct, but the (division) will have closed the original complaint.'

The average citizen was more measured.

'I hold the basic belief that citizens should hold more control over the police,' stay-at-home mom Chena Mesling, 38, said in an interview. 'The people of this city will only benefit from greater control over the process.'

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