New ballot initiative deteriorates police accountability

On  March 1, William Aitchison, a lawyer representing the Portland Police Association (PPA) filed a ballot initiative, PDX24OL-03, that would make major changes to a previously approved measure surrounding police accountability. 

In 2020, 82% of Portland voters approved Ballot Measure 26-217, a measure that would create an independent, civilian-run Community Board for Police Accountability beginning in 2025. Before the initiative, law enforcement accountability was overseen by the city agency Independent Police Review (IRP). 

Critics of IRP cited weakness for holding police accountable, as well as a lack of transparency with the public based on current laws around police investigation. Under IRP, the police union could also appeal decisions made, rendering many attempts to hold law enforcement liable useless. 

The initiative aimed to solve the issues seen under IRP in several ways, including increasing the budget from $2.8 million to $11 million per year, signifying a minimum of 5% of the Police Bureau’s budget. Board members would also wield more power, with domain over investigating all deaths in custody, uses of deadly force, complaints of force causing injury, discrimination against protected classes and constitutional rights violations. Additionally, law enforcement and immediate family members of law enforcement would be barred from serving on the Community Board. 

The PPA’s new ballot initiative would drastically shift the nature of the original ballot, removing many of its initial demands and reverting the final authority of disciplinary action to the Chief of Police. It eliminates the funding requirement to be at least 5% of the Police Bureau budget, and places all fiscal management to the City Council. According to PPA’s new ballot initiative, members and family members of law enforcement would be able to serve on the board. 

The PPA ballot measure would alter the primary goals of the community board to “review and recommend improvements to recruiting, retaining, and training efforts by the Portland Police Bureau,” rather than fulfill its initial purpose of police accountability. 

The PPA argues that the current plan for the community board would create a bias against police officers. Aaron Schmautz, the head of the Portland Police Association, emphasizes the importance of final decisions being authorized by the chief of police. 

“The chief is responsive to the elected officials and has experience in law enforcement, understands the laws and the rules and the regulations, (should) make that decision,” said Schmautz in an interview for Willamette Week. 

In response to the police union’s ballot initiative, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon filed a ballot title challenge on March 12. They will challenge the ballot in the Multnomah County Court, arguing that the title and overall language of the measure is misleading and does not accurately characterize the changes it is making. 

“All portions of the ballot title are insufficient or unfair because they fail to inform the voters about, or materially downplay, the significant repeals of existing Board authority that the Initiative would effectuate,” the ACLU’s filing states. 

Reverend Dr. LeRoy Haynes Jr., the chair of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, is the primary petitioner of the ballot and issued a statement emphasizing the potential impacts of a regression in police accountability.

“This is both a moral and legal fight for the African-American community, communities of color and progressive people who desire to have both justice and public safety,” said Haynes in his statement for the ACLU petition. “The Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform has been working toward a vision of independent, community-led police accountability and oversight since Portland police killed Kendra James in 2003. It is a deep moral injury to be at the moment of being ready to implement that vision just to have the police union try to bring a counterfeit proposal to replace it. I hope that this ballot title challenge lays bare exactly what the police union is doing here — undermining community and accountability.”

The backers of PDX24OL-03 will have to secure 40,748 signatures to get the measure on the 2024 ballot in November, where Portland voters will get to decide the direction of the accountability board. 

If you would like to potentially vote on this ballot and other Portland measures, you can register to vote on the Oregon secretary of state website, where there are several online and paper options available. 

Subscribe to the Mossy Log Newsletter

Stay up to date with the goings-on at Lewis & Clark! Get the top stories or your favorite section delivered to your inbox whenever we release a new issue. 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

AlphaOmega Captcha Classica  –  Enter Security Code