Portland council OKs deal over police reforms

PORTLAND — The Portland City Council has approved a settlement with the Justice Department on police reforms that some of its members think the city might not be able to afford.

Federal investigators found in September that police engaged in a pattern of excessive force against people with mental illness.

The vote on the five-member council was unanimous Wednesday, The Oregonian reported.

It came two and a half weeks after Mayor Sam Adams and Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall publicly released the agreement calling for changes to Portland police use of force and stun gun policies, training and oversight.

Several community activists and attorneys have urged the council to slow down and complained that the agreement didn’t go far enough.

Civil rights attorney Tom Steenson says there a “disconnect” between the way Police Chief Michael Reese defines an “immediate threat” that can allow officers to use deadly force, and how his police trainers interpret the same words.

He cites an officer’s killing of Aaron Campbell, shot in the back while running away. In recent years, Steenson won major settlements against the city on behalf of the families of Campbell and James P. Chasse Jr., a 42-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia who died in police custody in 2006.

On Thursday, the council is to consider an Adams proposal to tax on landline phone service providers to help cover the cost of the reforms.

Members of the council said they were concerned about the costs. Commissioner Nick Fish said the city may be locking itself into commitments for services when there isn’t enough money.

“I have a real concern about committing long-term money in this way,” Fish said. “I’m going to vote ‘aye’ today because I think it moves the ball forward.”

Commissioner Dan Saltzman said he didn’t think additional internal affairs and Police Review Division investigators are needed.

Adams said the initial talks with federal justice officials would have had the city paying much more than what he anticipates. He has estimated the cost at $3.5 million to $5.4 million a year.

The money will cover 32 new staff positions and the ongoing funding for the bureau’s Service Coordination Team, which provides housing and treatment for frequent low-level offenders.

Of the new staff positions, 26 are within the Police Bureau and the other six scattered within the city attorney’s office, Independent Police Review Division and the city’s Office of Equity.

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