Our Viewpoint: Who should watch the police?

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The fox has appointed himself to guard the henhouse.

Although it seems like a long time ago, it was only last summer that demonstrators took to the streets of Portland to protest the horrific killing of a Black man in Minneapolis and police brutality against Blacks nationwide.  

At the same time those street protests were spreading, members of Portland’s longstanding Police Citizen Review Subcommittee, which now has a limited role in reviewing the results of complaints against the police, sought a greater role in the true civilian review of police practices. To that end, the panel proposed a fundamental change: adding two citizens to the separate internal police review board.

City Manager Jon Jennings, who has been a lightning rod for activists who think he wields too much power, validated those objections last week when he rejected the subcommittee suggestion. Instead, he said he alone, in consultation with the police chief, would name one member to the committee that reviews internal complaints. 

Most appointments are made by the mayor, and that would have been the better course here. This action by Jennings is a slap in the face to the activists who have been seeking to have true civilian oversight of the Police Department. Such meaningful civilian oversight could help prevent use-of-force tragedies from happening here, and the activists and board members were making a reasonable request for an oversight role.

City leaders have developed a habit of paying little respect to the reasonable requests of residents, even as expressed in binding referendums such as the minimum wage vote. Jennings’ rejection of this modest proposal only continues that pattern, and widens the chasm between residents and City Hall.