January 29, 2015
PORTLAND — The Director of Portland's Office of Equity and Human Rights, Dante James, presented a report to City Council on Wednesday about three listening sessions with City employees. On December 3, December 10, and January 7, approximately 200 City employees voluntarily came together during their lunch hours to discuss the aftermath of the Ferguson grand jury decision from an institutional perspective.
Topics of discussion revolved around: institutional and systemic racism; implicit bias; community/police relations; police training; the feeling by people of color of disempowerment and fear; as well as how these issues were created and fostered the tinderbox that exploded in the days following Ferguson.
Subsequent to Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown came other deaths in other cities that were high profile deaths of Black men or teenagers at the hands of police. The Office of Equity and Human Rights felt it important to provide a space for voices to be heard and frustrations to be expressed.
Here are the attendees' recommendations that James presented to Council:
Suggestions Specific to Police
Improve officer training
- Bias training is critical: bias must be owned and faced
- Have the courage to create conversations to talk specifically about fear and distrust on the part of both the community and the police
- Continuing education for officers on bias, de-escalation techniques, and inter-personal skills, not just one-time sessions
Culture and Policy changes within the Police Bureau
- Need to change policies about engagement and expectations of interactions
- Internal zero tolerance policies – visibly holding officers accountable for behavior that is unacceptable
- Create a culture where peer reporting does not lead to ostracizing
- Conduct psychological exams more often, instead of only upon hiring or after a police-involved shooting, in order to root out possible changes in officers’ psyches after several years on the job
Improve police and community interactions
- Meet communities face-to-face and regularly (not only after incidents or at events). Engage in true community policing
- Create requirements or incentives for police to live in communities they serve, e.g., Portland used to have a home-buying incentives program for officers
- Create police/fire/ranger education programs and relationships for youth in schools and through grassroots efforts to better attract officers of color, not just depending on individual officers who do it on their own
- Neighborhood structures, organizations or groups should be involved more in community policing
Make better efforts to diversify the Police Bureau
- Review criminal background check policies (e.g., if my cousin sold drugs years ago, it can prevent me from being hired by the city for public safety jobs)
- Create a process where police work with Park Rangers to create a pipeline to becoming an officer; the police can benefit greatly from learning about rangers non-weapon carrying tactics
Suggestions for All City Employees and Elected Officials
- There should be an extension of a program to aggressively diversify the workforce. Every bureau has an Affirmative Action Plan. Evaluate and report on them.
- Hold managers/bureaus accountable for outcomes in hiring as well as outreach in order to hire more broadly
- Cultural awareness in the workplace should be evaluated. Bureaus should conduct climate surveys to understand the impact of race at work.
Portland Police Chief, Larry O'Dea, testified in support of the report and announced that two vital Police Bureau positions would be filled soon: an Equity and Diversity Program Manager (who begins next week) and an analyst who will focus entirely on stops data, specifically on criminal justice inequities and implicit bias.
The Office produced a video about the first session, held on December 3, 2014: