Portland police oversight panel, residents rebuke Jennings on use-of-force accountability

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Portland City Manager Jon Jennings’ proposal to appoint just one non-Police Department representative to an internal police use-of-force review committee was rejected by members of the panel that introduced the idea and others who have protested police brutality. 

The Police Citizen Review Subcommittee, which already reviews external complaints against police, previously sent recommendations to Jennings as part of its bigger-picture project of trying to gain more oversight of the Police Department.

Those recommendations included placing two individuals on the department’s internal committee that reviews incidents involving the use of force – one representative from the PCRS and one from a separate employment committee – and having the PCRS review the internal complaints.

Portland City Manager Jon Jennings

Jennings, however, told the PCRS on Dec. 9 that he spoke with Police Chief Frank Clark and they agreed placing one person on the internal use-of-force review panel would be appropriate. That person would be chosen by Jennings, and while they would be an equal member, they would have to go through training by the Police Department and participate in annual ride-alongs with police.

Jennings’ proposal was emphatically opposed by activists who work on issues involving policing and minority communities.

Christiana Marvay, speaking on behalf of Black POWER, said they are tired of telling city officials what they need to do, only to end up being repeatedly ignored.

“We watch these meetings and listen to community members, and we are telling you,” she said. “And the best thing I can say is listen to us.”

Committee member Maria Testa and several members of the public also opposed Jennings’ unilateral proposal, saying the idea of Jennings and Clark hand-picking a person to go through police training did not align with what the PCRS had in mind.

“This is counter to our recommendation,” Testa said.

Testa, whose term on the subcommittee expires in February and who has been the member most vocal about demanding more authority, said she would volunteer to be appointed, but still emphasized she wants to see two people added.

Several community members, including People First Portland organizer and former City Council candidate Kate Sykes, also spoke against Jennings’ proposal. Sykes said she had “deep concerns” about indoctrinating a person into police policy and procedure. She said this person would end up essentially just another representative of the Police Department.

Sykes said the PCRS has been “sticking its neck out” in ways it never had before by asking for more authority, and it needs to do more.

“You are my only hope to get real justice for people, and for people of color specifically,” she said. “You have a voice people in the community don’t have.”

Taking a more conciliatory view was committee member the Rev. Kenneth Lewis, who first proposed having citizen participation on the use-of-force review board. He said he thought Jennings’ proposal is a step in the right direction, although he acknowledged it’s “not going to get us where we want to be.” 

Lewis said he is concerned the subcommittee is spinning its wheels, and didn’t want to see it fall into a pattern of making “all-or-nothing” demands of the city. 

“I like progress, I see this as progress,” Lewis said. “It feels progressive.” 

In response, Marvay and others said if subcommittee members don’t want to listen to the public’s critique of the Police Department, they should step aside and let new members take over.

Testa said the issue of wanting more police oversight isn’t unique to Portland, but what Jennings has proposed is a rejection of change. She said people she has spoken with are frustrated, a sentiment echoed by those who spoke during a recent PCRS meeting.