Act now. If you have been near any of the protests in Central Oregon or elsewhere, that’s one of the calls from the crowd.
The Oregon Legislature may actually act soon with genuine reform in the upcoming special session. A bipartisan group of lawmakers and police chiefs, sheriffs and the Oregon District Attorneys’ Association have all committed to at least one change in the law. It would better ensure appropriate disciplinary actions taken against police officers don’t get overturned.
Here’s the problem summed up in an Oregonian story from 2012: “In the past three decades, Portland police chiefs have fired officers who were convicted of driving drunk off duty, leaving dead animals outside a black-owned business, and selling “Smoke ‘Em, Don’t Choke ‘Em” T-shirts to officers after a man died in police custody from a neck hold.”
It seems outrageous, but police chiefs had to rehire every one of those officers. An arbitrator overturned the firings.
State Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, has wanted that changed. He’s proposed bills to change it. They failed. Police unions have opposed them.
His bills have said outside arbitrators could not undo disciplinary actions as long as the arbitrator agreed misconduct occurred and the department followed its own guidelines when carrying out discipline.
Another bill that may move in the special session would require the Oregon Department of Justice to take the lead on investigations of police shootings and when officers caused deaths. Local district attorneys work with local police every day. That can make it harder to be objective when investigating local police. You may remember Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel called for this change earlier this week. State Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, has also been working on a bill to make knee holds and choke holds illegal.
Those aren’t the only changes that may be coming. On the national level, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., is working to create a publicly searchable database to track law enforcement officers who engaged in misconduct.
We all know how efforts like these have turned out in the past: They failed. If they do move forward now, they won’t solve every problem. They will, though, help restore respect and trust. They should also make it easier to hold officers accountable who don’t deserve to wear the badge.