Portland Voters Overwhelmingly Pass Police Reform Measure to Overhaul Current Oversight System and Build a New One

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty says 2020 has brought about the political will to reform police oversight.

Portland police near Delta Park on Sept. 26, keeping adversarial protesters apart. (Chris Nesseth)

Portland voters on Tuesday approved a new police oversight board and dissolved the existing one—by a lopsided margin.

In early returns, voters were passing Measure 26-217 with 82% of the vote.

"I will say I'm not surprised. I expected that we would have overwhelming support," Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who championed the measure, said during a Tuesday night press conference. "But 80% sends a very strong message that the community is ready for a transformation when it comes to policing."

The measure will dissolve the city's current police oversight board, called the Independent Police Review, and replace it with a new police oversight board staffed by diverse community members, none of whom may be employed by law enforcement or have immediate family members employed by law enforcement.

Unlike IPR, which is stymied by city and state policies, as well as the Portland Police Bureau labor contract, Hardesty says the new board will have the authority to subpoena documents, compel officers under investigation to testify, and share investigative findings with the public.

One major difference between the two boards is that—unlike IPR—the new board will have the power to discipline and even terminate officers. It will also be allowed to name them.

The measure was vocally opposed by the Portland Police Association, which says much of it is illegal, and also received public skepticism from City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero, who oversees the current system and warned that the reform proposal was overly ambitious.

Hardesty said she anticipates legal challenge from the PPA but that she trusts the city's attorneys can handle any lawsuits leveled against the measure.

"I expect them to file a lawsuit," Hardesty said Tuesday. "It won't be a surprise."

Indeed, now that it has passed, Measure 26-217 has several hurdles to overcome, including amending arbitration laws at the state Legislature. But Hardesty says there is the political will now more than ever to make sweeping changes to police oversight.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.