Police force needs policing


Once again, tragedy strikes Portland. An unarmed African-American is gunned down and the rest of us ask why. We have been here before. Like before, there is sorrow, there is outrage and there are promises. But the question remains in all of our minds Ñ will anything change?

A few years ago, in a genuine attempt to examine and come up with answers to police accountability, Mayor Vera Katz directed a diverse group of residents to research and produce solutions to the growing gap between the citizens of Portland and its police department Ñ a department that is sworn to protect and serve those citizens.

After seven months of debate and research, a majority of the committee recommended that the city put in place a civilian review board with the power to subpoena, investigate shootings and deaths in custody, and make final findings and recommendations in police misconduct cases.

For unknown reasons, the mayor ignored her own committee's recommendations and, instead, directed the city auditor to create a different oversight board, which left the power of investigation and findings in the hands of the police department.

Historically in this town, the police department has failed repeatedly to adequately govern itself. With effective policing and enforcement, most citizens are discouraged from acting in ways that will result in punishment. That is a basic premise of our criminal justice system. That basic premise applies to police as well.

One can only guess what went on that fateful night with the police and that young black man. I have no doubt that the death of this young man was not premeditated. But I do foster doubts that the officer was properly trained, had the proper psychological disposition to understand the deadly nature of the weapon he carried, was sufficiently experienced in diversity, and, most importantly, knew that if he made errors in judgment or procedure that he would suffer consequences for his mistakes.

This time, lip service, new committees and apologies are not enough. The city needs to assure its citizens that the police will be governed by standards of accountability just like the rest of us and will no longer be privy to special rights.

The mayor and Portland's City Council need to review the findings of the Majority Report of the Mayor's Task Force and put in place a civilian police review board with teeth and independence. Otherwise, the gap between the citizens and their police will become untenable. Pandering is no longer an option.