City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero's testimony July 29, 2020, against Council's referral of a police oversight proposal to the November 2020 ballot. Council voted 4-0 to refer the matter to the ballot.
Good afternoon, Mayor and Commissioners,
What a moment we are in. It is at once one of sadness, hope, and opportunity. Sadness for the family of George Floyd and so many others. Hope that this moment is a lasting pivot to a more just world for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Opportunity to make government more responsive, inclusive, and accountable.
I join with Portlanders who want their values for community safety aligned with the policing and emergency response delivered by the City of Portland. I am attentive to the voices of people who have been left out of the benefits of government while carrying more than their share of its burdens, and the work of the Auditor’s Office reflects and prioritizes that awareness. I also know that so much more needs to be done.
This moment is also one in which decisions made in haste may have us looking back in a few years, wishing we’d proceeded with a bit more care to get it right.
The proposal under consideration today is presumed to be in response to demands for a different police oversight system. Not a better system, just different. We can’t tell if it would be better, because we haven’t had time for due diligence, to weigh the pros and cons, to understand the hurdles to implementation, or to simply have our questions answered.
We haven’t had a moment to help the public understand that officers in the proposed system will be held to the same work rules that exist today until they are changed, and that the same legal protections will also apply. Those of us who’ve worked daily in civilian oversight know the obstacles and how hard they are to change. Magical thinking won’t make these existing constraints go away.
I appreciate the dilemma: There is an urgent call for change. People are in the streets. Emotions are running high. Do something, City Council, do something!
I urge you, however, to do the smart thing, so the people of Portland get a better oversight system, not just a different one. I urge you to do what only the four of you can do. Govern through a fraught time. Hew to the values of sound public governance: transparency, integrity, accountability, and inclusion. None of those values has been present in the development of this proposal. You are being asked to refer an unvetted, unrefined model of oversight that throws out the best of what works in the current system for a hazy promise of something better down the road. It rests on a foundation of misinformation, repeated over and over, from here to there, with such constancy that the truth cannot compete.
You are being asked to write with permanent pen instead of pencil, to imprint unvetted concepts in Charter that could easily be put in City Code and remedied if they prove to be unwise or unworkable.
Are you prepared to commit to spend as much on this oversight model in perpetuity as you do for the entire Auditor’s Office? That’s what guaranteeing the proposed model’s budget in Charter could do.
Are you prepared to lose the civilian oversight expertise, cultural competence, and years of experience that exist today, when the public servants who dedicate themselves to police accountability drift away for a more certain future? That’s the likelihood, as it will take years before the committee described in the proposal figures out the details and works through the policy, legal, and contractual issues.
A thoughtful schedule of Code changes, paired with a transition plan, would be a better course ahead than the chaos that will result in civilian oversight in the interim.
Please do not take lightly your duty to ensure that a referral from this Council to the ballot signals to the voters that it is ready for their consideration. There may be a time when this proposal -- fully developed, vetted, and tested -- will be worthy of such a vote. November 2020 is not that time.