A Portland Charter Commission committee is recommending creation of a new city office that would include an overhauled police oversight board.
The Department Committee met Monday night, Nov. 15, and agreed to send its proposal to the full 12-member commission for feedback, and to the panel’s attorney for vetting. The elected commission is preparing a range of recommendations for voters that could overhaul the structure of city government.
Because Monday’s meeting was just a workshop, this may not be the committee’s final recommendation. But the three members of the committee said they wanted to allow the full commission to see where they are headed.
The proposed Office of Civic Engagement would include a new police oversight board that would replace the existing Police Citizen Review Subcommittee; an appointed ombudsman who would review cases referred by the oversight board, and a communications and constituent services aspect, to inform the public about office operations and make it easier to file complaints against the Police Department.
Commissioner Zach Barowitz said the public information aspect is important.
“When I look at the city website, I groan a bit and my blood pressure spikes up,” Barowitz said.
The revamped police oversight board is something the committee has spent much time discussing.
The board’s function would be to receive complaints against the Police Department and to refer them to internal investigations. Then the board would review investigations to see if they were thorough, fair, timely, and objective.
Committee Chair Ryan Lizanecz said the board’s activity would still be regulated by state law, which prevents investigations at a certain level due to privacy concerns.
“The meat of this is powers and duties, what we want the board to be able to do,” he said.
The board would also hear appeals and be able to refer cases to the ombudsman.
Investigations would have to be concluded and reported on within 14 days, which Lizanecz said would ensure things don’t get “bogged down.”
The board would also have the ability to perform data-driven evaluations of the Police Department and recommend policy changes to the City Council.
A significant change being proposed is in the membership of the board.
The current Police Citizen Review Subcommittee has seven appointed members, but the Departments Committee members said the disqualifications for appointment are prohibitive. These include being employed by the city or a member of the City Council within the past 10 years; having been arrested or having a family member who was arrested within the past 10 years, and having filed or having a family member who filed a complaint against the Police Department within the past 10 years.
Membership on the proposed board would be open to city residents over the age of 18.
The group is recommending a board of 12 members: three appointed by the City Council, one appointed by the mayor, three non-voting members filled by students or other individuals who would only serve temporarily, and five appointed by so-called community chairs representing neighborhood associations.
Terms would be for three years, with the possibility of reappointments.
The board would report to the City Council, a departure from the current model where the PCRS reports to the city manager.
The committee also plans to recommend the board members receive stipends, although Lizanecz and Commissioner Marcques Houston said the amount should be left up to the City Council.
“I think it’s a tougher sell when they have price tags on them,” Lizanecz said.
He said a stipend makes serving on the board accessible to everyone, not just those who can afford to do the work.
The committee is also recommending that board members be allowed to opt out of the stipend and is proposing a fully funded staff for the board, at a level equal to a percentage of the Police Department budget.
No vote was taken Monday night. The committee scheduled an additional meeting on Nov. 29 and has two regularly scheduled meetings on Dec. 6 and Dec. 20.