At the end of a rulemaking process held mostly behind closed doors, state regulators this year asked the public about Oregon’s first effort in a decade to overhaul the rules for ousting unfit cops.
Three people from the activist group Empower Portland answered the call for feedback from Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. All said they wanted to see more expansive state oversight.
“We need help from the state holding police accountable,” wrote Standard Schaefer.
“Please please do something at the state level that will over-ride the systemic bigotry and complacency of our City Council,” wrote Teresa Roberts.
But commenter Julie Crosse had the most specific request of the agency that certifies Oregon police: Postpone taking action on your plan, and get more public input this time.
“I look forward to more transparent inclusion,” she wrote.
On Thursday, members of the agency’s Police Policy Committee said they saw no reason to change course. Presented with a set of options from the agency’s staff, they voted unanimously and without discussion to send the rule change forward.
“I move that we adopt option 1, no changes, and I think the staff did a great job addressing these complaints,” Keizer Police Chief John Teague said.
The new rules make sweeping changes to the circumstances of when and how officers will lose their certifications.
Some of the changes could make it more difficult for the state to take badges away from troubled officers.
Incompetence will no longer be grounds for revocation. Officers fired for cause will only automatically lose their certifications if they engaged in misconduct “under the color of office.” And the revision appears to set a higher bar for revoking the certification of an officer for dishonesty or for disregarding someone’s rights. The agency would have to show that officers “knowingly” did those things to lose their badges.
Other revisions would expand the state’s power to revoke an officer’s certification. Domestic child abuse convictions would now result in automatic revocations. And so would convictions that require officers to register as sex offenders. The agency also would start to take into account criminal cases against officers that don’t result in convictions.
And the new rules would make some major process changes. The board would have the new option to suspend an officer’s certification. Currently, the board can choose only to revoke or to not revoke an officer’s certification. The new rules would additionally allow officers to make oral statements to the committee hearing their case.
The dramatic rewrite of the rules for police is the first since 2008. The process began in 2015, when the board approved a “work group” to study to state’s regulations. A 19-member work group met eight times the following year.
State law encourages agencies to solicit comments from the public as soon as possible — sometimes even before rule revisions begin.
That didn’t happen in this case. Instead, the agency chose to hold a series of meetings behind closed doors and without public notice.
The department conceded the meetings should have been open to the public only after questions from The Oregonian/OregonLive. Under Oregon law, the group is considered an “advisory body” and subject to public meetings law requirements.
The agency’s director, Eriks Gabliks, said in an interview in March, “I think it’s important that I say this: We don’t believe that we did anything wrong.”
But the agency has since begun posting notices for its work group meetings.
On Thursday, the agency’s staff rejected criticism from commenters who wanted more public input.
Rules Coordinator Jennifer Howald noted that the 19-member work group that crafted the new rules included a “public member.”
Patricia Patrick-Joling is a real estate agent who was appointed by the governor. Howald said that because Patrick-Joling was included, “the public not only participated in the development of the standards but voted to approve the standards.”
The fact that the group met eight times without any public notice was not mentioned.
The agency’s staff did explain why the new rules would eliminate incompetence as grounds for taking an officer’s certification.
Crosse, the Empower Portland activist, wrote: “I want it on record I’m opposed to officers that are found to be incompetent to be able to retain their certification to enable them to go elsewhere and attain another position that puts the public at risk of harm due to their incompetence.”
Howald said Thursday that state regulators didn’t have the power to stop that.
“A legal review by the Department of Justice identified that the board lacks the necessary statutory support to take action on public safety certification for incompetence alone, since it’s not necessarily an indicator of a demonstrated lack of moral fitness,” Howald said.
Before the rules take effect, the public safety agency’s full governing board must approve them. That group next meets July 27.
— Rebecca Woolington contributed to this report.
— Carli Brosseau