Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 1.22.09

PAORC Drifts Forward
Committee set to address difficult issues next
by Carol Berg-Caldwell and Randy Price

The Police Auditor Ordinance Review Committee (PAORC) meets for the third time Thursday, Jan. 22. How are they doing?

PAORC, established after two divided council work sessions last November, has most of its work ahead. Its assignment is to thoroughly review an 18-point motion offered by then-Councilor Bonny Bettman. She’d asked for routine implementation of the voter-approved charter amendment; the council opted instead for a 15-member committee with a March 11 deadline.

Things got off to shaky start Jan. 5. In the absence of the hired facilitator, the assistant city manager convened the group. An hour later, the facilitator arrived, and members were more than ready to elect leaders and proceed. Former Police Commission member Tim Laue, touting extensive experience, won an unopposed election for chairmanship. Soon after, Laue intensely shared his concerns about the ordinance, tempered only by his confessed lack of sleep. Raised eyebrows notwithstanding, the group proceeded. Eventually, members agreed to poll themselves on their own feelings about the 18 points. 

At its second meeting, Jan. 13, the committee began prioritizing. A grid showing each member’s response to each of the points was displayed on two colorful posters. Committee members and the public strained to read them, with little success. Two brave committee members asked for, and received, a distribution of paper copies of the chart. They were ready to begin!

Everyone was happy to dispose of the question of the auditor’s access to the Internal Affairs office. This front-page controversy troubled many in October. Would the auditor have a key card that actually opened the doors? Or would she be locked out on the whim of staff, as ex-Chief Lehner did to the last auditor? Fortunately for the committee, the issue had already been settled elsewhere. Key card access, restored in late October, would be permanent with a ”business hours only” proviso described in a new memorandum of understanding between Interim Auditor Dawn Reynolds and Interim Police Chief Pete Kerns. The committee resolved five other points, meaning the city attorney would have the next opportunity to reword the agreed-upon points. 

The committee approached the first contentious issue, “classification of complaints,” just before wrapping things up. Wouldn’t it be sensible that a police supervisor make the initial contact with a citizen complaining of poor service, to quickly see if an officer’s performance was sub-par? Chief Kerns advocated this approach for handling the “service” complaints. The group appeared persuaded and made no objection. It was only later, during public comment time, that former Councilor Bettman sounded the alarm. Many citizens do not want to be interviewed by another policeman after making a complaint. Some “service” complaints actually involve misconduct. She reminded the group it was the auditor who should be the first to interview and classify all cases.

PAORC has yet to tackle the most difficult issue of all, “concurrency.” Many misconduct complaints involve cases where a citizen is charged with a crime. Depending on the charge, a prosecutor from either the city or Lane County begins its investigation. Police officers are interviewed with the goal of building a case. But when does the auditor get to interview the same officers regarding any complaints of misconduct? The auditor’s task is to act promptly. But the Lane County DA has refused to allow additional officer interviews until the criminal case is over. The reason? If an officer’s report of events differed in the two interviews, it could weaken the prosecution’s case. 

Concurrent investigations were disallowed after May 30, when Eugene police Tasered a person demonstrating against roadside pesticide spraying. Several witnesses filed misconduct complaints. The Lane County DA filed charges against three demonstrators and then blocked the auditor from interviewing police personnel. 

Supporters of effective police oversight are advised to keep a close watch on PAORC. Despite the presence of a mayor, facilitator, chair and vice chair, the committee has not yet demonstrated it can resolve the difficult issues. Hopefully they will. Public comment is taken at the beginning and end of each meeting. 

You can view video coverage of PAORC and an in-depth interview with Bettman on PictureEugene, Tim Lewis’ YouTube channel ( Select “Bonny’s Insights on Oversight.”

Carol Berg-Caldwell and Randy Prince are members of Communities for Ethical Law Enforcement (CELE). PAORC meets at 5 pm on, Jan. 22 and 29 in the McNutt Room of Eugene City Hall.