Civil liberties experts who have been following Eugene’s selection of a new police chief suggest the process is too friendly to the candidates and question how prepared the three finalists are for a community like Eugene.
The public has one more opportunity to weigh in on the choice at a community forum on March 13.
The final decision will be made by March 23 by City Manager Jon Ruiz, says Laura Hammond, the city’s community relations director.
Hammond tells EW via email that while community feedback is not required by the charter, “this is an important position for our community and organization, and community input is critical to the process. Jon [Ruiz] will be reviewing all the feedback received from the department and the community as he makes the decision.”
Public outreach events about the hire have been taking place since July 2017, according to the city’s website.
The three finalists are Chris Skinner, police chief of Richland, Washington; Mike Lester, assistant police chief for Vancouver, Washington; and Bruce Marquis, previously police chief in Norfolk, Virginia, and Hartford, Connecticut, but currently training programs consultations manager for the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security, Anti-terrorism Assistance Program.
David Fidanque, who retired as the executive director of the Oregon ACLU in 2015, says of the candidates, “They are all from out-of-state, so that means they will not be familiar with some of the things that are unusual about Eugene.”
He points to Eugene’s Civilian Review Board and independent police auditor as examples of things that are not common in other cities of a similar size. Hartford has a civilian review board, and The Virginian-Pilot reported in 2007 that Marquis was against civilian oversight of the police when he was chief in Norfolk.
Fidanque also questions whether the candidates are aware of Oregon’s 30-year-old law that forbids local and state police from investigating federal immigration violations.
“I’m assuming there’s been some vetting around those issues, but that’s probably not a safe assumption,” he says. Fidanque does say he is confident Ruiz will take public input into account.
Joel Iboa, vice-chair of the city’s Human Rights Commission, also expects that Ruiz will take public input. Ruiz told him he “will look at every piece of information that comes his way,” Iboa says. “This is the best process we’ve had so far.”
Iboa says the process was not perfect. “While this is a step in the right direction, the city of Eugene still has a long way to go” when it comes to an inclusive decision-making process and addressing more marginalized community members, he says.
The HRC was included in the process of choosing the consultant that selected the finalists, Texas-based recruitment group Strategic Government Resources, and will be represented in the March 13 community panel.
The brochure used by Eugene and the recruiter briefly mentions Eugene’s “well-established civilian oversight structure that includes a Police Auditor and Civilian Review Board.”
Among other things, the brochure also says the new police chief will “provide culturally responsive training to best serve communities of color, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, Muslim and Jewish communities, residents with mental health issues, individuals experiencing addictions, and other underserved communities.”
The brochure refers to Eugene as “diverse.”
The new chief will “further develop and implement strategies that prioritize and reinforce the department’s commitment to de-escalation,” it says. March 30 is the three-year anniversary of EPD shooting death of military veteran Brian Babb.
Erin Grady of the Civil Liberties Defense Center is more critical of the process. “If the city is to really address the separation between the citizens and the police of this town,” she says, “they are going to have to spend much more time and ask much deeper questions of the communities impacted by police.”
Grady says questions asked at the public forums were “positive, leading questions” such as, “What do you like about the police department?”
She says, “To us that seemed very weak and substanceless,” and the questions didn’t give a space for communities to criticize. “It didn’t feel like the intention was to address problems.” ■
The community forum is 5:30 pm Tuesday, March 13, at Harris Hall, 125 E. 8th Avenue. Small group interviews with the candidates by a pre-selected community panel will take place that morning at 8:30 am. Written feedback can be provided via email to EPCrecruit@ci.eugene.or.us through 9 pm, March 17.