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UO Campus Cops Lack Oversight

Civilian oversight of the police tends to be reactive not proactive, says Mark Gissiner, Eugene’s civilian police auditor. Yet a recent $755,000 jury verdict in the “Bowl of Dicks” retaliation case against the University of Oregon’s police department has not prompted change in the UO’s police oversight.

The Eugene Police Department’s complaints process, while “not perfect,” has emerged nationwide as a “leading model,” Gissiner, says. EPD’s process involves the Civilian Review Board (CRB) that examines policy and gives input into the police investigation process as well as an outside auditor who conducts the investigations. The CRB and police auditor report to the Eugene City Council, not EPD and are funded separately.

Under the UO model, there is a Complaint Resolution Committee (CRC) made up of students, administrators, UO employees and four “at-large” members. There is no independent auditor. The committee “provides recommendations to the vice president for finance and administration to help ensure that complaints regarding the conduct of sworn members of the UOPD and UOPD policies are resolved in a fair, thorough, reasonable and expeditious manner.” 

Jamie Moffitt, who is the UO vice president for finance and administration and chief financial officer, says via email that the UO committee’s responsibilities and other aspects of the process “were developed after more than a year of research into various models of oversight used by municipalities and universities by a working group made up of students, faculty, staff and a local government/community liaison, with input from the Eugene police auditor.”

Gissiner says altought he was consulted “to some degree,” his was merely an advisory role and “not at all part of the decision-making structure.”

Marty Wilde, a UO grad and attorney, who has written to UO President Michael Schill about his concerns regarding police oversight at the university, has concerns over how that oversight is configured. He says, “Having the same person who pays for excessive force claims judge whether excessive force occurred is a fundamental conflict of interest.”

Wilde adds, “Public input into police policy builds a bridge between the community and their police,” and says, “I hope the university will adopt a police commission model like the city’s.”

In the recent retaliation case, a federal jury found in September that UO Police Chief Carolyn McDermed and Lt. Brandon Lebrecht retaliated against UOPD officer James Cleavenger for whistleblowing, and another officer, Sgt. Scott Cameron, retaliated against him for previously speaking up about the use of Tasers on campus.

The three-quarters of a million dollars the UO paid out was for economic and punitive damages.

Cleavenger had filed a 2013 lawsuit that exposed the UOPD for spending work time creating list of people who should eat a “bowl of dicks,” made up of people and things that annoyed the department, from local civil rights attorney Lauren Regan to Mayor Kitty Piercy to Ems game security officers as well as celebrities and local landmarks. 

Chris Wig, a UO grad, says the jury verdict should be a wakeup call for the UO to change its process and adds that “worse than not changing” its process, the UO has not apologized to the students and community members that were on the “Bowl of Dicks” list. He calls this “indicative of an arrogance and that we don’t need to be accountable.”

 Wig says his criticism of the UOPD’s process comes not from his position on Eugene’s CRB but as a private citizen and a candidate for a seat on the Eugene City Council.

Associated Students of the UO President Helena Schlegel says she only recently found out about UOPD’s complaint resolution process “and was immediately concerned.” She says, “I do not see how the current process is effective, and the ASUO is providing input to UOPD and the UO administration to work towards changes that allow for more transparency and collaboration with the campus community.”

Wilde shares the concerns about transparency. He says, “The university’s police complaints process does not require participation by anyone outside of the university community and requires all participants to keep proceedings confidential. How can the public trust a secret process run by insiders?”

Moffitt says, “Discussion pertaining to specific complaints needs to be kept confidential only when the information being discussed is precluded from being made public because of a law, policy or a union agreement.” But she adds that the university setting also affects transparency, as some information and reports may be “deemed confidential by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”

According to Gissiner, in the past, 85 percent of the UOPD’s contacts have been with nonstudents. However, the current structure of the UO’s Complaint Resolution Committee does not specify that any of the at-large members must be part of the broader off-campus community, and the other members are specifically from the university.

Gissiner says police culture “is about fighting crime so anything that deviates from a maximum resource allocation for crime fighting can lead to pushback from police establishments.” 

That’s not necessarily what’s going on at the UO, he says, but having an independent auditor that reports to a civilian board is “certainly the best model,” pointing out that a board or committee doesn’t have the time to do the in-depth analysis that a dedicated auditor does.

Wig points out that the UOPD’s complaints process is not centralized. There are four locations and a website where complaints can made. This scattershot reporting method is similar to UO’s heavily criticized process for reporting sexual assault or harassment, a process that has since changed after high-profile rape allegations, lawsuits and settlements the UO has had to pay out for its handling of the cases.

“Something really bad has to happen to cause change,” Wig says. In the case of the UOPD’s retaliation case and recent loss in court, “something pretty bad has happened.” He asks, “What’s the worse thing that has to happen” before something is changed?