City contract for police reform about to triple. No-bid contract handed out .. without community input as to improvements we’d like to see from a ‘Community Liaison.’ —
We were gratified when elements of our police accountability model – a Civilian Compliance & Reform Authority (CCRA) – were incorporated in a Federal plea deal, following Department of Justice Findings that Portland, Oregon police engage in “activities that amount to a pattern or practice of violating the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
The CCRA was to be a bifurcated process, one prong to establish an ongoing, sustainable Civilian Oversight Authority. Our design considered funding streams, realizing they need to arrive from outside of City budgeting. To act in an oversight capacity, police accountability structures must be beyond the sphere of the perpetrator’s influence.* We analyzed bridge funding, and proposed eventual revenue flow directly to the body … as a result of amendment to the City Charter.
The Feds often rely on Strong Man/Monitor roles, divorced from public influence, to see police reforms implemented. This plea deal nodded toward unprecedented demands for public involvement in Portland. Unfortunately, fusion with public involvement damaged potential capacity any oversight executive might enjoy. In another model, the DoJ simply pass their costs of overseeing reform on to the perpetrators. Instead, the DoJ allowed the City to hire those it felt most comfortable with … for the task of holding their own selves accountable. A fox now guards our henhouse, and it’s about to nose down once more into the public trough.
Instead of the DoJ simply placing their trusted servant in oversight capacity, the Feds were out-maneuvered. The plea deal required the City to hire a Compliance Officer Community Liaison (COCL), thereby allowing the perpetrators to select who would hold them accountable for the beatings, tasings and mortal injury their agents inflict on constituents.
Portland has no Police Commissioner: the Mayor performs the role at his discretion. His ‘community’ liaison is a mid-career police officer. She now oversees a contract issued this past January to Rosenbaum & Watson, LLP, to act as COCL. By the contract’s structured non-interference with police conduct, it’s likely solicitation for these services was drawn up with police collaboration. Instead of a Strong Man, we’ve had a Collaborator placed in authority for police oversight.
The City’s COCL contract has – six months in effect – been deemed to be deficient.
The city initially offered $240,000 annually. (The contract was to run for a full year following ‘substantial compliance’ when affirmed by the 9th Circuit Court, estimated to be five years from inception.) Contractor response was so dismal that the bid period was extended. Ultimately, three candidates emerged for consideration.**
When we testified on the letting of this contract, it became apparent that none of the five City Commissioners had read the actual contract language (developed without community input).
Tomorrow, Portland City Council will admit two things:
1. It failed to correctly draw up the COCL contract … and to fund the endeavor at appropriate levels.
2. It chose the right ally in subverting police reform: Rosenbaum & Watson.
There’s a sizable difference ($458,000 a year) between contracts. (Even though the $75,000 a year set aside for Chicago-Portland travel will not increase with the addition of new cronies.)
Click here to read tomorrow’s Agenda Item 870: “Amend contract with Rosenbaum & Watson, LLP in the amount of $458,000 per year for a five year total not to exceed amount of $2,243,834 for the independent Compliance Officer and Community Liaison for the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement.”
Imagine what would happen if the triple-sized contract now went out for competitive bids.
Contractors have informed the City that the required workload is unprofitable to them. Now that City Council faces a nearly four-million-dollar outlay (distinct from the five million dollars in new money going directly to police), it seems wise to shop around. What kind of services can that money buy?
We submit the City will triple expenditure rather than lose Rosenbaum & Watson’s obligingness. The bean counters have no history of ever influencing police conduct. They are willing to form a swath of the wallpaper the City sets out … to give appearances of holding police accountable, while – at the core – the police Internal Affairs Unit remains in charge of exonerating officers; police remain responsible for collecting and handing over data which might implicate them. (Other wallpaper the City unfurls are the ‘Independent’ Review Board, which does not investigate police narratives, and a police union contract provision which permits every stoic decision to fire an officer for illegal use of force to be subsequently reversed in arbitration.)
Tomorrow’s hearing is really a ‘showing.’
The Settlement Agreement itself was a backroom deal. In order for police to continue acting outside the law, the City perpetually sets policy behind closed doors. Tomorrow, having secured the three votes necessary for passage, City Council will pretend to receive public testimony. Commissioners will individually thank those who attend, and – without amendment – rubber stamp a substantial contract revision.
City Hall knows they have an eager ally. COCL’s own ‘community calendar’ does not reflect their intention to re-contract for services: they are unilateral directors, failing to serve in a liaison capacity. Mimicking local authorities’ ‘keep the public at arm’s length’ sentiments, COCL likely did not solicit from the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB, also established as part of the plea deal). COCL does not heed opinions of community participants generally, and would certainly not engage them to advise on contract provisions that would improve delivery of service. (COAB is not funded: it does have needs, like legal counsel beyond the perpetrators’ City Attorney, for subject matter experts, and training the City would rather they not receive.)
Having shown City leaders that they can keep community aspirations roped in, and best practices fenced out, COCL stands to gain more than two million dollars without opening themselves to a competitive bidding process. (Neither does the City require the contract for delivery of cops’ pre-hire screening services be set out for competitive bid: they know the bureau will continue to be populated – unabated – by those with proclivity to violence, racist enforcement, and deception.)
A million bullet points could be inserted here, to demonstrate how Rosenbaum & Watson follow a City agenda. The Community Liaison role was “engaging the community in public processes and incorporating their feedback into actionable information,” and “collaboration with multiple stakeholders including …community advocates.” We’re particularly disappointed by the absence of any broad community engagement strategy, particularly since this team invited police to run their public forum. Federal Justice Michael Simon granted those who called for a civil rights investigation, The Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, ‘friends of the court’ status. COCL (as does the City) want no part of that friendship. Errand boys for the status quo, they’ve isolated citizen appointees from all who’ve organized to bring civil rights protections into force.
We just thought you all should know. The fix is in.
*NOTE: City Commissioner Amanda Fritz added Partner Jo Ann Hardesty to Portland’s 2011 Charter Review Commission. When it became apparent the public would used review of the City’s constitution to put a police accountability measure on the local ballot, then-Mayor Sam Adams pulled funding for staffing the project. Fritz now runs for re-election, never having fulfilled her campaign promise to return to a public process for reviewing the City Charter.
Rosenbaum & Watson were the only aspirants overtly ruled out by the civilian body: none in the panel could conceive of a Chicago-based team acting as a Community Liaison in Portland. City Commissioners duly chose them over the pair who did pass muster. (Partner Jo Ann Hardesty served on the selection committee.)
This subversion of process is reminiscent of the City’s response to the huge community involvement required to address the failed Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee in 2000. After a great commitment of time and effort, then-Mayor Katz ignored the Majority Report of her own Work Group. She instead adopted a temporary fix submitted by the police union. It’s now become institutionalized as the Independent Police Review Board, which has ever since failed to detect police misconduct (including the period in which the U.S. DoJ Civil Rights Division found egregious, ongoing harm).