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Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Nov 20

November 20, 2020

Posted on November 20, 2020 at 1:01 PM by Niyah Ross

Throughout my first term I’ve talked about the value of council meetings that are scheduled in clusters in which the topics of the week are related.  The cluster this week was public safety, and it built on the insights last week from the Ad Hoc Committee on Police Policy.

Monday night’s meeting was dedicated to the 2019 annual reports from both the Civilian Review Board (CRB) and the Police Auditor’s office.  For those of you who are tracking our conversations about accountability and safety, I recommend spending a little time looking at these reports.  The Civilian Review Board selected for review a dozen cases from over 400 that came through the Auditor’s officer. These were thoughtfully chosen to reflect the range of complaints: social media use and policy; off-duty conduct; taser use; officer-involved shooting; officer response to a call for service; and an allegation of unreasonable detention.  The Board summarized a few key points based on these cases: the need for a clearer policy on the use of social media by officers; the usefulness of body-worn cameras in fair assessment of officer actions; and the value of the Blue Team software now in use by the EPD in maintaining a log of activity.  The CRB also noted that a few officers (one in particular) in 2019, have repeated allegations, posing a question about whether the disciplinary interventions have been effective.  This aligns with the conversation taking place in the Ad Hoc Committee on Police Policy.

In 2019, the Auditor’s Office received 446 complaints, a 12% increase over 2018.  By far most of these complaints were service related (208), Inquiries (143) and policy complaints (49).  The Auditor attributed the large number of service complaints to the impact of homelessness.  Allegations of serious misconduct increased from 21 in 2018 to 28 in 2019. More than half (15) resulted in a sustained allegation against one or more employees.

 On a positive note, the report says that “the influx of new EPD employees offers a real opportunity to foster a culture of transparency and collaboration between the police and civilian oversight.”  Auditor Mark Gissiner has held this role for almost 12 years and plans to retire in 2021.  He has built a model agency and a strong team that, in addition to their review of complaints, also initiated robust outreach to the Spanish-speaking community to build trust and understanding.

On Wednesday, we heard from Municipal Court Judge Greg Gill.  The municipal court has had to navigate both complete closure of the courts during the shut-down in March and reduced capacity since we entered Phase 2 of the COVID response.  Both reductions required agility, innovation and a lot of hard work to ensure that the legal rights of offenders are fulfilled and honored.  The court established a “virtual docket” in which offenders at the jail can appear on Zoom.  The judge noted that under the Community Safety Initiative, funding from the payroll tax will support a third courtroom.  In the interim, this virtual courtroom has been so effective that he expects it will continue post-pandemic to serve people who cannot take time off from work or leave children to travel to court.  He also reported that in the summer, the Court held Community Court in the Park Blocks where people could safely distance.  Community Court is our diversion court for minor offenders, often people who are homeless, to engage in community service and access housing and other service providers instead of going through the regular justice system.  Judge Gill noted that he wished he had tried this earlier in the pandemic, because it was well attended and effective.

Our final session on Wednesday included an Executive Session to review our negotiations with EWEB regarding their property.  This topic will come to Council in a public meeting soon.

Finally, a few comments about where we are.  The level of anxiety and frustration is unabated.  We’re all struggling with the slow certification process of the presidential election and facing a new freeze in response to COVID. Our infection rate is rising – it is double this week over last; and triple over the week before. Thankfully, the UO has increased its testing capacity and is opening tests to the general public.  Today’s paper includes an obituary of a 30-year-old man with no pre-existing condition who died of COVID-19.  Please plan your Thanksgiving carefully.  Find other ways to celebrate -- virtually or outside with a small group.  I plan to see pairs of friends, two at a time, outside for warm cider and dessert.   Our Thanksgiving thoughts this year should resonate with thanks for good health, good health care, and good will to protect one another.