FILE — Portland police precinct

Squad cars sit outside the Portland Police Bureau's Central Precinct on October 24, 2020. The bureau boasts some 900 officers and 300 civilian positions.

(The Center Square) — Three bills in the Oregon Legislature would keep police departments from leaving use of force unreported, denying arrestees medical exams, and handing a badge to a white supremacist.

Sponsored by Oregon Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, the bills follow up on months-long efforts at police reform supported by civic activists and the Oregon House Judiciary Committee which Bynum chairs.

The first, House Bill 2932, would create a public statewide database containing all reported uses of force by Oregon police and correctional officers.

Under Oregon and federal law, officer misconduct is often recorded in documents called Brady lists, which can range from dishonesty to police brutality. Few Oregon counties have streamlined processes for requesting Brady lists or appealing requests while even fewer dictate what such lists should look like.

HB 2932 would see officers who use or threaten to use force assigned a randomly generated number along with such characteristics as their race, height, gender, and years on the force. Names would be private unless the officer became the subject of a civil lawsuit much like those inundating the Portland Police Bureau (PPB). Each case would contain descriptions of how the officer initiated contact with the people involved, what weapons they possessed or used, and how their superiors reacted to the incident.

In a written testimony, Michael Selvaggio, representing the Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs, argued that "many officers will naturally be using a 'threat of force' via implication in order to compel adherence to certain lawful orders."

"In many cases the threat of force is a part of a successful de-escalation strategy," Selvaggio wrote.

Selvaggio recommended the database account the availability of back-up, the officer's prior experience with the suspect, and the quality of their dispatch information.

Research published in the Crisis Prevention Institute and the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine defines de-escalation as “transferring your sense of calm and genuine interest in what the patient wants to tell you by using respectful, clear, limit setting [boundaries].” 

The bill also mandates a turnaround of five business days for police reports on riots. This requirement comes as Portland enters its seventh straight month of protests against police brutality.

Testifiers in support of the database included concerned citizen Andrew Young, who alleged crowd control tactics by Portland riot police left him with a broken ankle and hearing loss while he was walking downtown.

The database would be subject to annual review by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission and include deaths in police custody.

In relation, House Bill 2931 would see officers ensure arrestees receive medical exams as soon as possible at the hand of a medical professional.

Dr. Patrick O'Herron, president of the Physicians for Social Responsibility, wrote to members of the House Subcommittee on Equitable Policing that the database was a stepping stone to both equitable policing and equitable healthcare.

"A robust, public, and searchable database of use of force by police and corrections officers would allow the collection and analysis of data regarding police use of force," O'Herron wrote. "If we hope to decrease violence on members of our communities from law enforcement, we need to fully understand the problem."

House Bill 2936 confronts one of the defining issues in the debate over police reform: racism. 

The bill would see officers pass a "racial bias and sympathy test" and expressly forbid members of white supremacist or militant groups from joining the force. Included in the bill are strict bans on racist social media posts, tattoos, or insignia as well as reviews for prospective officers' financial dealings.

Oregon and federal laws require police recruits to have a high school diploma or GED and U.S. citizenship within a year of being hired.

PPB recruitment policy discourages people with histories of "poor judgment" and lack of experience with people of different "racial backgrounds."

A 2017 report from the bureau still found Black individuals accounted for 27.8% of uses of force by PPB officers despite making up 5.8% of Portlanders.

The bill would also see law enforcement agencies turn over evidence of racist or discriminatory behavior from an officer to the district attorney within two weeks.

White supremacy has become a growing national security concern for the Biden administration following the dismissal of 12 National Guard members protecting the U.S. Capitol for making related statements last week.

The Oregon House Committee on Equitable Policing is slated to reconvene on Monday at 8:00am to debate officer training standards and officer duties to report misconduct.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.