Portlanders are proud of our region’s progressive values, but on policing and other criminal justice issues, we are failing to lead. By some estimates, the US has 25% of the world’s known prisoners with only 4% of the world’s population. Coming as little surprise, the negative impacts of policing fall disproportionately on black and brown community members, those struggling with mental health issues, people experiencing houselessness, and others who may lack adequate resources in the face of adversity.
It does not need to be like this! With a new police chief and the early stages of an updated police contract, we are beginning a new chapter in the history of the Portland Police Bureau. This is a moment where we can make lasting changes to the way policing looks and acts in this city. We can do this better, together.
At Portland Forward, we’ve been working on big ideas for the future of our region and asking questions about what we can do now to create an equitable, thriving, and sustainable vision for our community. When applying that vision to criminal justice, we see the current moment as an inflection point. Now is the time to push forward and create lasting progress for all.
Over the past several months we have worked as part of the Portland Police Reform Network to push for improvements to the City of Portland’s contract with the Portland Police Association. We are optimistic that the new contract will have big improvements in accountability, transparency, and meaningful civilian oversight. Furthermore, we are hopeful that the organizing efforts around the current contract can be leveraged in the future to meaningfully institutionalize de-escalation and other positive behaviors while disincentivizing police practices that harm the community.
Even beyond the current work on the contract, there are also many other exciting things that justice-minded Portlanders are working on to improve our local criminal justice system. They include:
Creating a more meaningful and transparent system for independent civilian oversight.
Ending the use of excessive force.
Investigating and reducing the use of deadly force.
Expanding the pilot Portland Street Response program, which sends appropriate resources—in many cases not armed officers—to deal with non-violent “unwanted person” calls that make up a sizable proportion of calls to which police are currently dispatched.
Establishing clear processes and a fair Discipline Guide to address officer misconduct. The City must be able to fire problem officers.
Streamlining and simplifying the citizen complaint process.
Implementing training practices that are finally effective at producing the de-escalation outcomes the City has been calling for.
Demilitarizing regional law enforcement.
Hiring more people from within the City boundaries to be on the Portland Police force.
As we move into a new decade, we look forward to working with official decision-makers and community partners to take the serious and immediate actions needed to enhance justice. We believe Portland can and will lead the nation as a model city where demilitarized and accountable law enforcement are able to deter violent crime without exacerbating race, class, and other inequities. Together, we can build an equitable criminal justice system that current and future generations of Portlanders can be proud of!