Oregon Police Draft Rules Leave Much to Be Desired

The newly proposed draft rules regulating police conduct were published recently and they bring worrying news. 

The Oregon Commission on Law Enforcement Standards of Conduct and Discipline met to discuss what should constitute a fireable offense for police officers. Among the topics of discussion were very serious, generally illegal offenses, such as sexual or physical assault. 

The verdict? As of Oct. 1, 2022, even after committing sexual assault or using undue physical force, Oregon police officers may keep their jobs. 

Among the eight members to vote against several such restrictions was Mark Makler. Makler is a former prosecutor who now represents police unions and officers alike. 

Actions not always a fireable misdeed 

During the commission’s June 30 meeting, he said, “The butt is considered a sexual part of the body. So grabbing somebody’s butt in jest or horseplay could be considered a sexual assault.” 

Laura Fine, a defense attorney and another member of the panel, pointed out that this would be sexual harassment rather than assault. 

Among the reasons given to not count sexual assault as an immediately fireable offense was from Portland Police Association attorney Anil Karia. 

“There are things like state of mind or absence of intent that could come into play,” said Karia.  “Or degree of harm. There are nuances in this.” 

This all came from HB 2930, one of several 2021 pieces of legislation that passed around handling police reform and accountability to the public. According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas), the goal was simple — to gain clarity. 

She told OPB in an interview, “Officers like to have clarity, some level of certainty about what the standards are.” 

The idea was that with one set of clear-cut guidelines, officers with disciplinary problems in a single department can’t simply up and transfer to another with lower standards. 

Guidelines inspired by NYPD 

The commission has stated that they based their approach on that of the New York Police Department disciplinary guidelines — something which certainly bodes wonderfully, considering the NYPD’s history of abuse and unaccountability. 

This is made especially concerning given the fact that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, Portland police continue to repeatedly violate their own internal use of force policies. 

Ultimately, the program would establish several sets of potential punishments, separated into “default” and “mitigated” penalties. Were an officer to be accused of sexual assault after these guidelines go into place, rather than immediate termination, they could face one of the following: salary reduction, suspension without pay, demotion or written reprimand from a commanding officer. 

As for officers found guilty of using excessive deadly force, they would face an equally small slap on the wrist. Worryingly, as of July 7, only five of the 12 commissioners felt officers should be fired without any mitigating options when found to have used excessive physical or deadly force that results in the death or serious injury of another person. 

The phrasing “physical force” was subsequently removed from the guideline, restricting punishment to excessive use of deadly force. While an officer may be given mitigated punishment for physical force, they can and likely will keep their position under these guidelines. 

Proposed approach still worrisome 

The NAACP Keizer-Salem chapter’s former president, Benny Williams, told OPB that this troubled him. “That’s one of the disappointments that I have with the way some members of this commission have looked at this,” he said. “Sexual assault, deadly force — these are things that have been put in front of us specifically because these are issues that are pervasive across the country,” said Williams. “And Oregon is not in any way unique.” 

Those interested in finding the full draft rules may click here. Some of the more high-profile draft rules are as follows: 

  • Sexual assault: 
  • Default punishment: Termination. 
  • Mitigated punishment: Salary reduction, suspension without pay, demotion or a written reprimand. 
  • Use of unjustified or excessive deadly force resulting in serious injury or death: 
  • Penalty: Termination. 
  • Use of unjustified or excessive physical force resulting in serious injury or death: 
  • Default punishment: Termination. 
  • Mitigated punishment: Salary reduction, suspension without pay, demotion or a written reprimand. 
  • Intentionally targeting a protected class: 
  • Default punishment: Termination. 
  • Mitigated punishment: Suspension without pay, salary reduction or demotion. 

More conversations, public input sought 

Some commissioners hope that this is only the beginning, though.  

“The politics of our nation have trained us to take sides: the police or the criminal,” said Bynum. “Taking sides — I don’t think it’s helpful. And that’s why I think the conversations of the commission are very important and, again, it will reveal what the dominant thought is around who gets to be safe in our communities and at work.” 

The commission will continue to hold public hearings through August, ending Sept. 16. Public comments will be taken, with changes made if needed, before the ruling takes effect Oct 1. 

By Ethan Hauck 

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