The Activists and the Bureaucrats (Part II)
This is an ongoing story. Click here for Part 1.
Eugene’s city-sponsored committee to reform policing met for the second time on Oct. 6.
So far, the committee has yet to make any major steps toward forming recommendations for the city council, but the members did receive an overview of community-based police oversight from representatives of the Police Auditor’s office, the Police Commission, and the manager of the Eugene Police Department’s Internal Affairs office.
The meeting itself suffered not from disagreements among members of the committee, but confusion surrounding procedural matters. It took nearly 40 minutes for presentations from police oversight groups to begin. In addition, the materials that were supposed to be created by city officials to help prioritize concerns were not finished in time, leaving the committee without a clear path forward.
As a result, there was little discussion about potential changes to community oversight before the meeting hit its two-hour limit.
Still, the committee–and anyone who decided to tune into the live Zoom meeting–were presented with the basic structure of police oversight in Eugene, including what the Police Auditor, Civilian Review Board, and Police Commission are able–and unable–to do in terms of keeping the police department in check.
One presentation was led by Cindy Coleman, the Professional Standards Manager for the EPD’s Internal Affairs office, who offered a brief overview of how the EPD investigates and handles misconduct among officers. She noted that, although the Police Auditor’s office classifies any complaints and has oversight over the investigation itself, they too have no say in adjudication or disciplinary action taken against the offending officer. The Auditor’s office can make a recommendation, but the final disciplinary action is reserved for the Chief of Police.
Jeremy Cleversey of the Eugene Police Commission gave a presentation to the committee, explaining the role of the police commission in guiding police policy. The commission works closely with the EPD–including Police Chief Chris Skinner and a union representative from the Eugene Police Employees Association, who have non-voting seats at all Commission meetings. Cleversey cited lines from a recent report as evidence that the Police Commission is already working toward implementing the so-called “Pillars of 21st Century Policing” within the EPD, including a transition to a “guardian mentality” and a focus on “de-escalation” tactics.
“[Eugene City] Council is generally pretty happy with the police commission,” Cleversey said, unprompted.
Cleversey also credited Chief Skinner for putting forward what the Chief called an “emerging issues work plan,” which asked the Police Commission to review specific regulations relating to public assemblies and demonstrations, civil disturbances, and the use of pepperballs and impact weapons.
He did not specify whether this was done in response to recent lawsuits filed against the EPD for attacking protesters and journalists during demonstrations earlier this year.
Lindsey Foltz and Rick Roseta, both of the Civilian Review Board, also gave short statements about their role in overseeing the EPD, but stressed that they want to see far more accountability and transparency from within the department. Foltz, in particular, wants to see stricter rules about the disabling or muting of police body cameras and a stronger focus on de-escalation tactics.
“I’m tired of seeing justified use of force due to unjustified escalation,” Foltz said.
Instead of discussing changes to policy, the remainder of the meeting turned into a sort of Question and Answer session between members of the committee and officials with the various oversight groups. Most of the questions were fielded by either Police Auditor Mark Gissiner or Deputy Police Auditor Leia Pitcher. Both were candid in their answers and lamented the fact that the police union’s contract with the city and Oregon law make civilian oversight of the police fairly difficult.
“The issue is with the collective bargaining agreement,” Gissiner said. “The police [union] makes it nearly impossible to join in the [disciplinary] process.”
Gissiner also said that “public service is a privilege, not a right” and blamed the 458 idividual exemptions listed under Oregon Public Records Law for making his job more difficult.
“Overall, there are only 11 people [in Eugene] that can see an officer’s personnel file,” Gissiner said. “And I find that regrettable.”
However, Gissiner and Pitcher both highlighted the Police Auditor’s annual reports, which lists every single complaint and allegation filed against an EPD officer and their eventual outcome. Though it does not name officers or discuss the specifics of disciplinary action, the Police Auditor’s annual reports are the closest thing to transparency in policing that the City of Eugene currently offers.
In 2019, the Police Auditor fielded 446 total complaints against the EPD, the most in a single year since the formation of the Police Auditor’s office in 2005.
Only one officer was terminated for misconduct.
Towards the end of the two hour meeting, a few other committee members brought up their own issues with the complaint process: how to evaluate it, how to make it easier for people of color and non-English speakers to navigate it, how to include the people making the complaints in the process for complete transparency, and how to end qualified immunity for the officers accused of violence and other misconduct.
Gissiner didn’t have an answer.
“That’s an issue for state legislators,” he said.
This is the second of a ten-part series on the City of Eugene’s Police Policy Ad Hoc Council Committee. Double Sided Media will continue to cover the committee’s discussions throughout the fall and winter, concluding with an analysis of any and all recommendations made by the committee to the City Council. The committee’s next meeting has not yet been scheduled.