PORTLAND — The city’s Racial Equity Steering Committee, a 13-member panel created by the council last September, released Monday its preliminary recommendations on how to ensure a more equitable city for residents of color.

The early recommendations include strengthening the citizen panel that reviews internal investigations at the police department; a racial equity audit and annual anti-bias training for police officers, city staff and City Council; and having a special crisis team, rather than police officers, be the first to respond to calls involving homelessness, substance misuse and mental health.

“I think they are doing a really good job so far,” Councilor April Fournier told the Forecaster

“One of the things I am hoping we can see in the finalized report is how we can be held accountable as a city and as city leaders to implementing this work,” she said at the Feb. 22 meeting. “What are the measurements, what are the ways we can track progress?”

The committee is scheduled to present its final report to the City Council on April 12.

Fournier, who served on the police-citizen oversight committee before being elected to the council in November, said she supports giving that committee more power to review police investigations.

“I believe the law enforcement crew we have in Portland is acting in the public’s best interest for the most part,” she said. “It is policing itself, as we have seen all across the country, that needs to have some sort of reform.”

Samaa Abdurraqib, the racial equity committee’s facilitator, said the specially trained crisis response team that is recommended would not be employed by the police department.

The committee, Abdurraqib said, would also like the city to implement a framework that offers better equity for homelessness response during the pandemic and future public health emergencies. And, it wants the city to form a department of racial equity and a racial equity board that would be independent of the city and staffed by members of the public.

“It’s the start of a great conversation, but there are a lot of things in there I have questions about,” Councilor Tae Chong said of the preliminary report. “I am going to give the committee its due process before we figure out what is applicable and not applicable.”

Chong said he hopes a racial equity department, if established, would also look into how city practices impact other traditionally marginalized groups, such as Asians, and religious minorities, such as Muslims.

Under the recommendation, a racial equity department would compile racial demographics from the general assistance officer and Health and Human Services departments related to application denials and approvals; analyze city policies and practices to “eliminate race-based disparities”; and hear complaints and mediate race-based conflict between members of the community and city departments.

The committee also is looking into recommending reserving 10% of all city contracts for socially and economically disadvantaged minority-owned businesses; a more substantial review of criminal trespass orders handed out at city shelters and elsewhere to see if the orders are disproportionately impacting people dealing with substance misuse or mental health diagnoses; the establishment of a Portland Human Rights Commission; a pledge in partnership with the Portland Chamber of Commerce to hire Black workers and people of color; and the renaming select Portland streets.

“The committee is feeling really good we can get all this work done,” Abdurraqib said.

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