News that a Multnomah County grand jury last week declined to indict any of the officers involved in the shooting death of 25-year-old Keaton Otis came as no surprise to state Rep. Lew Frederick.
Frederick, the only African-American man in the 90-person Legislature, says city officials have stuck for decades to an unofficial script each time Portlanders protest alleged police abuse. That script is playing out once again with this latest fatal shooting of an African-American man, Frederick says—leading to deeper mistrust of police.
"There is a level of cynicism that anything is going to be done," says Frederick (D-North/Northeast Portland), "because they are responding in the same fashion."
But Frederick has his own action plan. After being appointed last fall to fill a legislative vacancy and coasting through the May primary uncontested, Frederick says he plans to use his first legislative session in 2011 to push for concrete police reforms under state law.
Police fired 32 shots at Otis May 12 in a Lloyd District traffic stop, the third fatal Portland police shooting this year. Cops say Otis opened fire, hitting Officer Chris Burley twice in the leg.
The shooting occurred just hours after Mayor Sam Adams took over the Police Bureau and installed Mike Reese as chief. Both promised reforms at the bureau.
But ever since, the usual script has applied. Mayor meets with African-American groups—check. Grand jury declines to indict—check. City Hall and the cops promise change—check.
Adams told WW on Tuesday he's not ready to release details of his reforms. He does say he wants to be more transparent about the bureau's recruitment and training policies. "People should know, and people should feel generally comfortable with them," Adams says.
But Frederick also sees a need to drive reform at the state level. In Salem, he says he'll push for three specific changes.
- Strengthening the law on police use of force. Activists say the law as currently written is overly broad, preventing grand juries from indicting cops even when the jurors are deeply troubled by the police response—as they were in the Jan. 29 shooting of Aaron Campbell, an unarmed African-American man.
- Instituting regular psychological evaluations for police, as well as post-shooting drug and psychological tests for officers. City Commissioner Dan Saltzman planned to push for drug tests when he was police commissioner. Adams says he’ll do so too.
- Beefing up training for police at the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.
Frederick hopes the response to the Otis shooting will help drive reforms.
"I'm optimistic that because it is so visible and people have not allowed it to go off the news cycle, we will see some changes," he says.