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Police bureau standoff with civilian review panel is over

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: ADAM WICKHAM - Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch at a recent meeting of Portland's police oversight committee. Handelman asked the committee to preserve his ability to record the meetings despite emails showing behind-the-scenes hostility towards his role.A standoff over security between top officials of the Portland Police Bureau and the city’s civilian review office appears to be over, with Chief Larry O’Dea saying he approves of steps to address safety concerns at meetings.

The easing of tensions represents good news for the caliber of civilian police oversight in Portland. O’Dea last month had warned of a boycott of the police review committee following a meeting that featured shouting, jeers and water thrown in a volunteer committee member’s face.

The review division’s Citizen Review Committee responded in kind, using its authority under city code to order police brass to show up at their next meeting, even as the group reviewed legal advice and committed to enforcing audience behavior standards.

After a meeting last week to address the new audience behavior standards, O’Dea said the committee had “put together something that addresses my concerns,” expressing confidence that his managers could again attend meetings of the Citizen Review Committee.

“War is averted,” quipped Independent Police Review (IPR) Director Constantin Severe, as he left the same meeting with a smile.

The month-long impasse had represented a new public low in relations between the police and the city’s civilian watchdog office. The IPR’s public meetings are supposed to provide the public with a window into how the police investigate the police.

But officers now attend the meetings only infrequently, typically leaving their commanders or their union to speak for them.

Even that level of police participation seemed in jeopardy after the March 30 meeting of the Citizen Review Committee. A handful of police critics dominated the meeting, interrupting the committee’s proceedings and mocking police command staff, recording the event on video for later posting on Youtube.

That night, Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner emailed officers urging them not to attend the meetings, and the following day O’Dea followed suit with a letter to Severe, the IPR director.

“I can no longer support having my employees participating in this environment unless and until steps are taken to address my serious concerns,” O’Dea wrote.

IPR officials blamed the disruptions on bad legal advice, saying the committee members were wrongly told they could not eject members of the audience.

Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, however, felt the union had been looking for an excuse to boycott the meetings.

Handelman cited emails obtained under Oregon Public Records Law exchanged with a review committee member who’d recently stepped down, Angelo Turner. In them, Angelo Turner suggests restricting Handelman’s ability to freely videotape the meetings as a way to encourage the police union to participate in the meetings.

Last Tuesday, Handelman addressed the committee to oppose parts of the proposed rules that seemed to unfairly restrict his group’s activities. Handelman, who has attended meetings for more than 20 years, had not been disruptive; in fact, he’s served as the institutional memory at times.

Angelo Turner, who stepped down several months ago, said later that he’d been trying to offer the union a “gesture” to defuse what he characterized as the escalating tension at citizen review meetings

“It was very disrespectful,” he said. “I’m not surprised it got to someone.”

Daryl Turner, the union president, said he hasn’t heard from the review committee so can’t comment on the rule changes intended to improve security at the meetings.

He said he believes in the IPR process, but it needs to provide his members with the feeling they’re being given a fair shake. “We believe in accountability.”