Police Commission Changes Its Focus

“What do people like to see in police policies?” asks Kaitlyn Lange, former Eugene Police Commission chair. She says this question, and trying to allow for more flexibility and greater efficiency, led to recent changes in the commission’s work plan, which alterations the commission’s focus from reviewing policy to examining issues it has determined the community is most interested in. City Council approved the plan July 22. “We’re trying to get away from wordsmithing policies and really get at the meat of what concerns people,” she says.

The commission will first examine the topic of services and public safety issues related to homelessness. A panel of EPD officers will explain how they enforce laws within the homeless community and how the EPD interacts with social service agencies, Police Commission member and City Councilor Claire Syrett says. The commission will also check in with the St. Vincent de Paul car camping manager. Police sometimes ask the car camping program to intervene in cases of illegal car camping and connect homeless campers with services.

Lange and Syrett say that creating policy around emerging police technologies such as license plate scanners and aerial drones is also a Police Commission priority, including limiting how long data from license plate scanners can be kept. “We don’t want to be creating databases of people who aren’t under suspicion of doing anything wrong,” Syrett says.

Critics of the Police Commission say that it lacks the authority to influence real change. Former Copwatch activist, videographer and longtime EPD critic Tim Lewis says that while focusing on issues seems to be a better path, he’s skeptical that it will make a difference. “I don’t think that they have any teeth anyway,” he says. Shedding light upon police activity through activism gets results, he says.

Syrett says it wouldn’t be appropriate for an unelected body like the Police Commission to have direct authority over EPD. “The purpose of the Police Commission and its charter is to advise the chief on policy and to provide the community’s perspective,” she says. If there were a major disconnect between the community and chief, she says, it may be appropriate for the commission to turn to the City Council.

The Police Commission is on summer break and will meet again Sept. 12 at EPD headquarters on Country Club Road. Meeting information is at http://wkly.ws/1iu, and the revised work plan with the list of community issues of concern is at http://wkly.ws/1iv.