Portland police unions oppose changes proposed for citizen oversight committee

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PORTLAND — Police union officials spoke in opposition Tuesday night to proposed changes that could allow previously arrested individuals and their family members to serve on a committee that reviews police conduct.

The union officials also said they were not notified of or invited to weigh in on the proposed changes, which they say must be negotiated with police unions.

A series of amendments have been proposed involving eligibility requirements for the city’s Police Citizen Review Subcommittee. That committee reviews Internal Affairs investigations into complaints against the department.

City Councilor Dan Skolnik, the chairman of the council Public Safety Committee, led the effort to come up with the proposal. 

Currently, residents or immediate family members of residents who have filed complaints against the Police Department cannot apply to serve on the committee. Neither can residents or immediate family members who have been arrested by Portland police. 

The proposed amendment would allow immediate family members to apply for the committee, as well as people who have been arrested by the department.

The applicants would be subject to a criminal background checks and interviews with the City Council Personnel Committee. 

Lt. Gary Hutcheson, president of the Portland police supervisors union, said the changes could allow someone on the committee who has “an ax to grind.” 

“It calls the integrity of the process into question,” he said.

Hutcheson added that the city has a population of 64,000, and “95 percent of the people living here have never been arrested or filed a complaint report.”

Officer David Argitis is president of the Police Benevolent Association, which represents patrol officers and other non-supervisors. He agreed with Hutcheson and said that the current eligibility requirements protect officers from petty and vengeful complaints.

Argitis also said he had not been notified of the meetings held to discuss possible changes to the committee requirements until this week, a statement Hutcheson also made.

“The unions are stakeholders,” Argitis said. “I’m always happy to meet and talk. I haven’t been afforded that opportunity.”

Cmdr. Mike Sauschuck said department leaders are proud of the work the committee has done since its creation in 2001. He added that they supported the unions being brought in to confer.

Skolnik said the unions had been invited to discuss the changes more than once, through former police Chief Tim Burton and most recently through Chief James Craig.

“It was not a personal invitation,” he said.

While the Public Safety Committee heard from the public Tuesday, no action was taken. Skolnik said he and other stakeholders are meeting with Craig on Thursday to discuss recommendations the chief has regarding the proposed amendments. He invited Hutcheson and Argitis to attend the meeting.

The committee will resume discussion on the topic at its Nov. 10 meeting.

Earlier this week, Hutcheson sent an e-mail to city councilors and police officers expressing his displeasure with the proposed amendments. In the message, he also said Skolnik, who served on the review committee prior to becoming a councilor, filed a complaint against an officer while on the committee and was asked to resign.

Skolnik in reply said he never filed a complaint, but simply wrote an e-mail to a supervising officer complaining about the conduct of an officer during an incident in 2007 in the parking lot at Home Depot. 

The incident involved a vehicle stop in the parking lot. According to the original letter sent to Capt. Ted Ross from Skolnik in May 2007, Skolnik could not get into his car in the parking lot because a cruiser making a vehicle stop was in his way. 

Skolnik said the officer refused to move his vehicle until he was finished with the stop, and was disrespectful and rude. He also accused the officer of unlawfully detaining him.

The officer later told Skolnik that the individual in the vehicle had a knife, and he needed to keep his cruiser where it was so the cruiser video could tape the incident.

Skolnik later retracted his letter to Ross, but his eligibility to serve on the committee was called into question.

Skolnik disagreed with a July 2007 opinion from the city’s attorney that he should be disqualified from serving on the committee, but resigned soon after to run for City Council.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net