Mayor’s Office Wants to Suspend Police Policy Advisory Group for Two Months Because of Insufficient Staffing and Low Membership

Only seven members remain on the normally 13-member committee.

A Rose City Justice march for Black Lives Matter in 2021. (Mick Hangland-Skill)

The Portland Community-Engaged Policing Committee, a 13-member panel intended to act as a liaison between police, City Hall and citizens regarding police reform and policy, is too dysfunctional to continue uninterrupted, the mayor’s office says.

Only seven members remain. Two of the three city staffers who aided the committee resigned in the past two months, and rumored internal strife among members—due in part to a structural change—is causing the city to look at temporarily pausing the work of the advisory board.

Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office is considering suspending the committee for two months. Mayoral aide Sam Adams says all seven current members will be welcomed back to their positions on the committee if the suspension occurs.

PCCEP operates under the Office of Equity, which is currently in Wheeler’s portfolio but will soon be placed under the authority of Commissioner Carmen Rubio. Because PCCEP involves police, the mayor’s office plans to move it out of the equity office and into the Community Safety Division, another bureau in his portfolio.

“The hiatus would be our opportunity to work through a work plan and relaunch fully staffed,” says mayoral aide Sam Adams. “Wheeler is weighing the fact that taking a hiatus would mean a disruption, against [the reality] that it’s hard for us to do justice for the existing PCCEP effort when we lack staff, when there’s a change in the bureau oversight, and when we have so many vacancies.”

The mayor is set to discuss the idea with committee members tonight at their monthly meeting, and is expected to make a final decision about the suspension early next week.

If the panel is suspended, the mayor’s office aims to restaff it over the next two months with the equivalent of 2.5 city employees and restore it with more members. (Beefing up membership requires interested volunteers to apply for the positions.)

Only one part-time city staffer remains, down from three at the beginning of the year.

The advisory board was formed in 2018 as a replacement for a prior policy advisory board that was part of the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2014 settlement agreement with the city of Portland over police treatment of citizens with mental illness.

Since then, it’s served as a liaison between the community, city and the police force to foster reform and accountability. PCCEP routinely makes recommendations to the city on policing policy.

The mayor’s office says it believes the suspension would pass legal muster, since the city is already out of compliance with the 2014 settlement. (The city is applying remedies to bring it back into compliance.)

Both the former project director and assistant project manager for PCCEP, two of the three city staff who aided the advisory board, resigned in the past few months. Only one part-time city staffer remains.

A change last fall in how the body was structured, past members say, contributed to internal tension amongst members and staff.

Historically PCCEP’s steering committee was composed of two co-chairs, an alternative co-chair and a secretary. But before last year’s fall committee elections, the city staffers reconfigured the committee in an effort to better spread out who had a say in decision-making.

The steering committee was retooled to be composed of the chairs of each of the four subcommittees. Taji Chesimet, former co-chair of the committee until January, says the move led to a total lack of structure: “With a lack of an organizational leadership that is voted on by the whole body, it leads to PCCEP being directionless.”

The mayor’s office will be looking at retooling the structure of the committee during the hiatus, if implemented.

Update, 7:45 pm Wednesday: At the meeting tonight, PCEP members voted 5-1 against suspending the committee, with one member abstaining from the vote. A number of members expressed concern about how a 60-day hiatus would disrupt their work. However, members pointed out that the vote is only symbolic, and that the final decision rests with the mayor. He is expected to announce his decision on Monday.

During the meeting, members echoed that the recent structural change disintegrated communication on the board, and some members said they felt insufficiently supported by the city.

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