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The City of Portland, Oregon

Auditor Mary Hull Caballero

Promoting open and accountable government

Auditor Hull Caballero's testimony against referral of unvetted police oversight model to ballot

City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero's testimony July 29, 2020, against Council's referral of a police oversight proposal to the November 2020 ballot. Council voted 4-0 to refer the matter to the ballot.


Good afternoon, Mayor and Commissioners,

What a moment we are in. It is at once one of sadness, hope, and opportunity. Sadness for the family of George Floyd and so many others. Hope that this moment is a lasting pivot to a more just world for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Opportunity to make government more responsive, inclusive, and accountable.

I join with Portlanders who want their values for community safety aligned with the policing and emergency response delivered by the City of Portland. I am attentive to the voices of people who have been left out of the benefits of government while carrying more than their share of its burdens, and the work of the Auditor’s Office reflects and prioritizes that awareness. I also know that so much more needs to be done.

This moment is also one in which decisions made in haste may have us looking back in a few years, wishing we’d proceeded with a bit more care to get it right.

The proposal under consideration today is presumed to be in response to demands for a different police oversight system. Not a better system, just different. We can’t tell if it would be better, because we haven’t had time for due diligence, to weigh the pros and cons, to understand the hurdles to implementation, or to simply to have our questions answered.

We haven’t had a moment to help the public understand that officers in the proposed system will be held to the same work rules that exist today until they are changed, and that the same legal protections will also apply. Those of us who’ve worked daily in civilian oversight know the obstacles and how hard they are to change. Magical thinking won’t make these existing constraints go away.

I appreciate the dilemma: There is an urgent call for change. People are in the streets. Emotions are running high. Do something, City Council, do something!

I urge you, however, to do the smart thing, so the people of Portland get a better oversight system, not just a different one. I urge you to do what only the four of you can do. Govern through a fraught time. Hew to the values of sound public governance: transparency, integrity, accountability, and inclusion. None of those values has been present in the development of this proposal. You are being asked to refer an unvetted, unrefined model of oversight that throws out the best of what works in the current system for a hazy promise of something better down the road. It rests on a foundation of misinformation, repeated over and over, from here to there, with such constancy that the truth cannot compete.

You are being asked to write with permanent pen instead of pencil, to imprint unvetted concepts in Charter that could easily be put in City Code and remedied if they prove to be unwise or unworkable.

Are you prepared to commit to spend as much on this oversight model in perpetuity as you do for the entire Auditor’s Office? That’s what guaranteeing the proposed model’s budget in Charter could do.

Are you prepared to lose the civilian oversight expertise, cultural competence, and years of experience that exists today, when the public servants who dedicate themselves to police accountability drift away for a more certain future? That’s the likelihood, as it will take years before the committee described in the proposal figures out the details and works through the policy, legal, and contractual issues.

A thoughtful schedule of Code changes, paired with a transition plan, would be a better course ahead than the chaos that will result in civilian oversight in the interim.

Please do not take lightly your duty to ensure that a referral from this Council to the ballot signals to the voters that it is ready for their consideration. There may be a time when this proposal -- fully developed, vetted, and tested -- will be worthy of such a vote. November 2020 is not that time.

Thank you.

Resources to evaluate police oversight changes

Auditor's Office logoPolice accountability has become a heightened subject of community concern in the wake of the brutal death of George Floyd in May under the knee of a Minneapolis officer. The Auditor’s Office has expertise and resources to help Portlanders understand our accountability system and evaluate proposals to change it.

The Auditor’s Office has played a specific role in police accountability since Independent Police Review was created in City Code in 2001. It has conducted periodic performance audits of the Police Bureau longer than that.

Portland’s accountability system is a shared responsibility between the Auditor and the Police Commissioner. The Auditor’s Independent Police Review takes complaints, investigates, and makes recommendations about policy violations to Police Bureau managers. It also monitors all cases investigated by the Police Bureau’s Internal Affairs. The ultimate decision-maker in cases that involve serious discipline is the Police Commissioner, who is also the Mayor.

See graphic of roles and responsibilities.

The system has changed over the years, including steps the City has taken to meet its obligations under a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. More improvements can be made, but it helps to understand which questions to ask and the answers provided by the existing system.

See the Auditor’s suggested questions and references for community discussion.

City Council is on track to consider changes to the accountability system on July 29, 2020 at 3:30 p.m. I cautioned at a virtual townhall meeting that it would be a mistake for Council to rush a new model onto the November ballot without first understanding the barriers that impede the existing system and allowing the community to discuss who the ultimate decision-maker should be if not the Police Commissioner.

See July 9, 2020, presentation slides.   

Listen to Think Out Loud conversation.

There are unfortunately too many misleading and misinformed statements in the discussion about the role of the Independent Police Review, so we’ve corrected the record on those as well.

See the corrected record.


The following are links to resources added to this blog post on July 28th, 2020 after the Auditor's press conference:

Creation of a new police oversight board, as proposed

A better approach

Video of Auditor's July 28, 2020 press conference

Slides from the press conference

Questions about proposed charter change

Statuses of majority report recommendations

Summary of mischaracterizations

Proposal versus current authority and practice

Mayor's proposed budget violates Charter, Auditor's independence

The budget the Mayor proposed May 7, 2019, violates City Charter and undermines the independence of the Auditor’s Office. The Auditor exercised her Charter authority last August and withdrew her consent to house the City Hearings Office after City Council declined to provide enough resources to ensure it operates effectively for the public. Mayor Wheeler put the Hearings Office back in the Auditor’s Office budget anyway. He swore an oath to uphold the City Charter. City Council must correct this violation before approving the budget on May 20. You can submit written comments to City Council on the budget here.

“City Charter requires the consent of the Auditor before Council can assign duties to the Auditor’s Office,” said City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero. “Council has no such consent, and the Mayor unlawfully put the Hearings Office back into the Auditor’s Office budget. I am calling on all Council members to remove the Hearings Office from my budget before they vote to approve the overall City budget.”

Documents: 

  1. Portland City Charter: Auditor’s duties and required consent https://www.portlandoregon.gov/citycode/28241#cid_643452
  2. Auditor’s 2019 memo withdrawing consent to house Hearings Office
  3. Auditor’s Requested Budget without the Hearings Office https://www.portlandoregon.gov/cbo/article/752691
  4. Auditor’s April 28, 2020 email seeking confirmation before budget announced
  5. City Council’s April 29, 2020 memo seeking reconsideration
  6. Auditor’s May 5, 2020 response to City Council
  7. Auditor’s 2016 memo withdrawing consent to house Hearings Office

Police overtime audit wins national recognition

Cover of Police Overtime audit reportLEXINGTON, KY -- The 2019 Exemplary Knighton Award for best performance audit in the Large shop category has been awarded to the City of Portland Auditor’s Office by the Association of Local Government Auditors (ALGA).

The report, Police Overtime: Management is lax despite high overtime use, was judged on several key elements, such as the potential for significant impact, the persuasiveness of the conclusions, the focus on improving government efficiency and effectiveness, and its clarity and conciseness.

With police departments facing increased scrutiny throughout the country and Portland facing historically high levels of police overtime, the Portland City Auditor’s office eschewed a traditional approach of looking at overtime that might limit the scope to financial impacts. Instead, the City Auditor produced a report that took a broader overview in illustrating the effects of excessive police overtime, including the impact of officer fatigue as it relates to both job performance and public interaction.

The report also details the lack of controls over overtime assignments and the risks associated with the secondary employment of officers by private entities. To reach their findings, auditors combined disparate data sets to identify and analyze the use of overtime by individual officers and tie it to specific shifts and situations. In the course of its work, the audit team identified a flaw in the daily assignment system that scheduled more officers than required per shift and made recommendations to improve overtime tracking. The audit also made recommendations to limit the amount of overtime that officers can work and to ensure that outside employment of officers was consistent with the Police Bureau’s policies.

Finally, the judges found the audit to be well written and easy to read with many illustrative examples that highlighted the cause and effect of the findings and drew the interest of the reader. You can find a copy of the report here.

Each year, local government audit organizations from around the U.S. and Canada submit their best performance audit reports for judging. The purpose of the competition is to improve government services by encouraging and increasing levels of excellence among local government auditors. Judges from peer organizations determined that this audit was among the best of 2019.

The Association of Local Government Auditors is a national audit association founded in 1985 committed to supporting and improving local government auditing through advocacy, collaboration, education, and training, while upholding and promoting the highest standards of professional ethics.