Public Oversight Boards Among Several Police Reforms Coming This Year

Change may be slow at times, but nothing can stop it.

Every year is historic in its own way, but 2020 stands out as one of the most turbulent and interesting in recent times.

One of the changes set to take effect this year results from the groundswell of protests over the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake.

Election day signaled a potential shift in accountability after half a dozen states overwhelmingly voted to usher in myriad police reform measures from oversight boards, changes to police departments’ staffing, and permitting wider public access to officers’ body and dashboard camera footage.

Oregon is at the top of the list.

Shortly after protests over the hyper-militarization of America’s police forces began erupting, anonymous, unidentifiable vigilantes started showing up in the city of Portland to intimidate and instigate violence toward peaceful protesters.

This prompted voters on November 3 to approve eliminating the Independent Police Review Board in favor of creating a new oversight board.

This board will have the authority to subpoena witnesses and request police documents and evidence when investigating complaints against the Portland Police Bureau; impose disciplinary actions that including termination against police officers; and recommend policies to the Portland Police Bureau and city council.

The board will operate with its own budget five percent of the total police budget.

City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who has been pushing for this type of reform for 30 years, commented:

“I think the public is at a space where if people keep dying when we call people for help, then we’re sending the wrong first responders and I think people are really starting to see. I think the protests that have been happening since May also have reinforced in people’s mind that the police really don’t feel like they work for us. They feel like they’re the boss of us and this is a way to rethink about policing, what role they play and to hold them accountable for community standards.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told KATU News:

“We’ll probably have to bargain some of the issues associated around the accountability mechanism in order to implement the changes that are proposed with this ballot measure. Lastly, there are potentially some state laws that will also have to be changed through the legislative process.”

In Oregon’s neighbor to the north, Washington, 82 percent of voters passed similar civilian oversight provisions after a summer of unrest where protesters created an “autonomous zone” from police activity.

King County, Wash. voters also approved a charter amendment to require inquests into killings at the hands of law enforcement, mandating victims’ families be provided public attorneys.

and Sonoma County, Calif. also approved independent oversight boards.

San Francisco also agreed to amend the city’s charter to facilitate removing mandatory police staffing levels.

Los Angeles County, voters approved spending at least 10 percent of its annual general fund–about $360 million–on incarceration alternatives like job training, substance abuse programs, and mental health treatment.

Moving West, Akron, Ohio, voters approved a charter amendment requiring police body and dashboard camera recordings be publicized in use-of-force cases that result in death or serious injury, unless legally prohibited.

On the East Coast, despite re-imposing cash bail for many misdemeanor and nonviolent felonies, New York formed the “New York State Police Reform and Reinvention
Collaborative.”

According to the “Resources & Guide for Public Officials and Citizens”, the collaborative process aims to:

  • “Review the needs of the community served by its police agency, and evaluate the department’s current policies and practices;
  • Establish policies that allow police to effectively and safely perform their duties;
    Involve the entire community in the discussion;
  • Develop policy recommendations resulting from this review;
  • Offer a plan for public comment;
  • Present the plan to the local legislative body to ratify or adopt it.”

Massachusetts passed a bill to require certifying police officers and curtail use of force.

Philadelphia intends to create a citizens’ oversight committee as other municipalities.

Although certainly not panaceas, public calls to “defund the police” are resulting in long-overdue changes.

They may not eradicate the systemic racism plaguing American law enforcement, but change is finally happening.

Change may be slow at times, but nothing can stop it.

Image credit: Pressenza

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