BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Several participants in the city of Bend’s online listening session on police issues Saturday morning urged the city to create a truly independent police review commission, reflecting the city’s makeup, and with the authority to fully investigate any cases of possibly improper actions.
But the scheduled three-hour session lasted about one-third of that time, as perhaps a dozen showed up to participate.
The city has a police advisory board, but the first participant in the online session, Michael Funke, said it’s likely 99 percent of residents don’t know it exists, and it’s not really a forum for people to raise issues or express complaints.
“I would suggest we need to have a whole different approach: a community police review board with oversight powers and responsibilities, that reflects the full diversity” of the community, Funke said. He suggested it should “even have the power to command the police chief and others by subpoena if necessary, to testify when complaints are made,” to assure transparency and accountability. And he said “there are a lot of good models” around the country.
Some participants also urged the city to follow the model set by the CAHOOTS team in Eugene and not respond with armed police to people in mental health or other crises, but instead to send crisis workers (counselors)and medical personnel, in order to reduce confrontations that could, in extreme situations, become fatal encounters.
Caleb Campbell, who raised the issue and the CAHOOTS model, stated, “Community policing is not a new concept, and it’s about time Bend got on board.” Another speaker later noted that she was told the city has indeed moved in that direction in recent years.
The city had set aside three hours, from 9 a.m. to noon, for people to gives their views and address issues such as accountability, police presence in the community, and what the police role should be in transient/homeless and mental health issues, as well as city council involvement in policing policies.
Erika McAlpine, director of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Laboratory at OSU-Cascades, served as third-party moderator, reminding all that the session was one for the city to gather feedback and not for two-way dialogue or to provide answers to people’s questions, which would come later in the process.
But the session ended in less than half the time, because there was no one else who was on hand to speak. In fact, several people were able to speak two or three times, clarifying their earlier statements, to make sure they were accurately noted, as the taken notes were showed on the screen (and translated), even having a chance to comment on each other’s statements.
One man who said he was arrested last November outside 10 Barrel Brewing Eastside said he’s written a blog about his treatment and complained that police are too anxious to “slap handcuffs (on people) and want to put them in jail.” He later wondered aloud if police have a quota to make so many arrests.
Moey Newbold was one of several speakers to note recent high-profile incidents in Bend (and elsewhere) and call on police to be better trained in implicit bias.
“We just don’t want to have people killed or brutalized by the police, with implicit bias or otherwise,” she said. “That’s what people are asking for, and it shouldn’t be contentious. I think people don’t want police to use unnecessary force.”
Another speaker who follows local protest/rally organizers on Instagram called for not just more transparency, but better communication with the public.
“When I see incidents, I want to know Bend police are taking it seriously, and there response," she said. I don’t know how to get that info.”
But there was a foray into another popular Bend debate topic: fireworks. Joette Storm said many residents “feel allowing fireworks at a time of extreme drought is not only dangerous, but reckless.” She said neighborhoods have met with police but “somehow the feeling is, police don’t really care enough about this – they push it off on neighborhoods. We are supposed to turn our neighbors in.”
It wasn’t all criticism, and maybe that was part of the reason the three hours did not fill up on a Saturday morning.
“I’ve never encountered anything but professional behavior by the Bend Police Department,” Carl Shoemaker said.
But another speaker who has attended several protests, in Bend and Prineville, said it seemed Bend police did more to protest counter-protesters and “those who might support Donald Trump. Black Lives Matter protesters don’t get the same respect counter-protesters do.”
“The way someone expresses themselves it not a reason to not show them dignity,” she said. “When you see a stone wall of police who don’t look at you as a person, then they don’t feel protected.”
Beth Hoover said she knows “how dangerous it can be in Bend to be a person of color,” noting her son, a person of color, grew up in Bend.
“We need a police force that reflects the complexion of the community,” Hoover said, adding that she was “disturbed” when the five finalists for police chief were all white males, and that that apparently “didn’t raise any red flags” with city officials.
Storm later suggested that the very word “police” itself has taken on loaded, divisive connotations, and suggested a reworking of responsibilities in a “department of public safety” that incorporates mental health professionals, ”redefining what the police do."
“I do have respect” for police, she said. “I think being a cop is a tough job. I believe residents will support Bend in the mission of public safety.”
Another speaker said the call by some to “'defund police' is a horrible team. I want to see police restructured.” She said she was glad to learn they do send licensed counselors to deal with mental health crises. “If it’s true they are doing that in Bend, I want to applaud that.”
Foster Fell called for a “clarification of the relationship between local and federal law enforcement.” During the ICE bus protest, he said, “the protesters had a valid negotiating point” and rather than withdraw when federal officers arrived, they “should have stayed and tried to negotiate a way out of the crisis.”
Fell expressed concern about a “possible constitutional crisis” after the election results are known and suggested Attorney General William Barr could deputize police.
“Will local police departments be used against us, and against the Constitution?” Fell asked.
He also said he was “a little disappointed” to read Police Chief Mike Krantz’s statement after the recent Pilot Butte Park incident that gave little mention of a man seen and recoded pointing a gun at people but when into more details on the “civil disobedience” that resulted, blocking patrol cars.
On the other hand, Fell said, “I know we’re going through a transition – we’re all learning.”
The city said community input will compiled and presented in a report to the city council at a work session, tentatively scheduled for the end of December.