Alliance endorses city measure for police oversight board

October 2020

As we enter the home stretch of this marathon 2020 election season, the Portland Business Alliance is pleased to announce a final endorsement. (Read our full endorsements for 2020 here.) 

On Oct. 14, the Portland Business Alliance Board of Directors voted to recommend a yes vote on Measure 26-217, which will establish a new independent and more transparent system of accountability for the Portland Police Bureau.    

Earlier this year, the Portland Business Alliance supported the Portland Police Bureau budget reforms developed by Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Hardesty, which shifted $14 million from the police budget into programs that better align the city’s public safety spending with our city’s shared values and goals. We also urged the city to engage in the reform and review process called for by President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) pledge. 

At the time we wrote the following to the Mayor and City Council:

It is now crystal clear that something has gone completely wrong with the culture, policies, and practices that have come to define modern policing. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, have led to a true inflection point where Americans – and people around the world – broadly and collectively have said “enough is enough” with the repeated deaths of Black people while in police custody. Even before these tragic deaths, the evidence was clear in large data sets, city audits, video evidence, and the consistent public testimony of the black community and other communities of color, that systemic racism has plagued policing and our criminal justice system for decades. The death of George Floyd has brought a long overdue public reckoning that we must all lean into if we are to eradicate institutionalized racist practices from not just policing, but all government agencies. We have no other choice if the Portland Police Bureau is to ever regain the trust of the entire community, and, most importantly, communities of color.

We urgently call on Mayor Wheeler, Police Chief Lovell, and the city council to begin the work called for in former President Barack Obama’s MBK initiative call to action. We thank Mayor Wheeler for being one of the first Mayors in the nation to sign on. This MBK pledge commits the City of Portland to immediately review police use of force policies, engage the community by including a diverse range of input and experiences, report the findings transparently to the community, and act to reform these policies based on the community’s input. The Portland Business Alliance is committed to being a partner in participating in and supporting this vital and transparent community led effort to overhaul how we approach public safety so that every resident – most importantly our city’s black residents, immigrants, and all communities of color – truly feel safe and supported.

These were not just words at a moment of political reckoning, but a long-term commitment from Portland’s private employer community to partner with all stakeholders to re-imagine how we approach policing and public safety in our city.  

After careful review, our board of directors concluded that Measure 26-217 will lead to the collaborative, inclusive, and transparent cultural and policy reform called for by President Obama, and championed by Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, along with her colleagues Commissioner Dan Ryan and Mayor Ted Wheeler. We agree. And we are proud to join the diverse coalition of leaders and community organizations supporting Measure 26-217. Passing this measure will lead to a safer and more just city for all of our residents, especially communities of color.  

Specifically, Measure 26-217 will:
Amend the city’s charter to establish a new police oversight board and provides funding.
Allow the oversight board the power to subpoena witnesses and request police documents and evidence to investigate complaints made against the Portland Police Bureau.
Allow the oversight board to impose disciplinary actions of law enforcement professionals.
Authorize the oversight board to recommend policing policy to the Portland Police Bureau and Portland City Council.
We believe these changes are necessary to accelerate the police reforms our community broadly supports. This approach, rather than arbitrary calls to “defund” the police, will put Portland on a productive path to racial equity in policing and public safety. In fact, it is quite likely that the reforms we need in the future will require increased police funding to successfully implement, rather than less.  

Portland continues to have fewest number of sworn officers of any comparably sized city in the nation. The council should reject any further calls for police budget reductions and focus their reform efforts on supporting this new oversight board once it is approved by voters. 

Measure 26-217 is not perfect and there will be critical work to do to develop key details for the system of community oversight that will be created. The Portland Business Alliance looks forward to being a partner in that critical work ahead.  

Finally, on behalf of the Portland Business Alliance we want to express our gratitude to the men and women who have stepped up to serve our community as sworn Portland Police Officers. Maintaining and investing in a diverse, well trained, and community-oriented public safety team of officers charged with protecting its residents, supporting victims, and enforcing laws is an essential city service. It is a basic expectation of the city’s residents and businesses. We know that the vast majority of people who step up to become sworn police officers do so with the values of public service and an intent to improve our community. We believe that the changes proposed by Measure 26-217 will begin the long process of rebuilding trust between our residents, businesses, and the Portland Police Bureau, which is more important than any single policy or budget change.