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Hall Monitor

Maybe Charlie's Not in Charge

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MAYOR CHARLIE HALES has never been shy about calling for a culture change within the Portland Police Bureau. He campaigned on the subject, and passionately. It was one of the first things we spoke about, back in the summer of 2011, well before the feds rolled into town and read us the riot act for letting cops use too much force against people with mental illness.

Police accountability, he claimed, was "one of my motivations to run" [Hall Monitor, July 14, 2011].

Then, when Hales finally got the job last year, he reaffirmed that passion. Hales talked about accountability during his State of the City speech. And he went on about it, vigorously, in our oral history of his first 100 days ["The Incomplete Charlie Hales," Feature, April 3].

"There was never any question," Hales said, proudly, "that I was going to be putting a lot of time and political capital into the police bureau."

Of course, that's not quite how it's worked out.

Exhibit A is a package of modest—but vital—police oversight reforms the city's Independent Police Review Division (IPR) has been pushing, for months now—much to the chagrin of top police brass ["The Cop Shop Sweats," News, Oct 16].

Instead of showing leadership on such an important issue, stepping in personally to help shape the debate, Hales apparently decided to do something a bit smaller:

He deferred to the high-ranking police officials whose butts Portland presumably elected him to kick.

At a council hearing on the reforms last Wednesday, October 23, Hales sat quietly and said little—surrendering his voice to Chief Mike Reese and his point-by-point list of gripes about changes many activists in the community already think don't go far enough.

The auditor's office, which oversees IPR, had also asked for a city attorney to show up at the hearing and take questions about the proposals. For whatever reason, IPR Director Constantin Severe tells me, no attorney from the office, notably overseen by Hales, showed up.

Then, at the end of it all—despite a series of private briefings since the summer, where Hales and his staff could have offered guidance but didn't—the mayor called the whole thing undercooked and put it on ice until December.

Reese, meanwhile, went on OPB on Monday, October 28, and spent several minutes praising the city's current oversight system.

Severe, for one, says he was flabbergasted by the "lack of seriousness" on display all around.

"This is a city council issue," he says. "The chief does not get to set policy for police oversight in this city."

City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade hasn't taken the snub lying down. Her office released a brutal memo late Monday killing the code changes, for now. But not before smacking Reese on the nose with details of two severely botched investigations involving senior police managers.

Both cases, previously revealed by the Mercury this month, had helped drive the reform proposal.

"There have been significant issues, even with the [federal] settlement agreement not even dry," Severe tells me. "What about four or five years in, when everybody's used to the way things are?"

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