Portland’s racial equity panel calls for more police oversight

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A panel appointed to fight racism in Portland is recommending a stronger police oversight board and a new city department to address racial bias in city policies, among other suggestions being presented to City Council on Monday.

The Racial Equity Steering Committee, which was appointed by Mayor Kate Snyder and City Council in the wake of widespread Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year, is expected to deliver a report at the council’s Monday meeting, according to the Portland Press Herald.

Among its recommendations, the panel is calling for a new police oversight board that would replace the city’s Police Citizen Review Subcommittee. The existing board has limited power and is authorized to review only certain aspects of inquiries into alleged police misconduct, including the timeliness and objectivity of investigations.

Instead, the new recommendations call for an oversight board that is transparent and “provides true accountability.”

The committee is also proposing a new Department of Racial Equity that would work to address racism in city policies, and would compile and study data on race in the city. It would have a director and at least two staff members.

Other proposals include the creation of a new team separate from the police department to help officers respond to calls involving people in mental distress.

Activists have criticized the committee and instead urged the city to adopt changes proposed by a local group, Black POWER.

Lelia De Andrade, a cochair of the committee, defended the panel’s work and said it’s only the start of a sustained effort to root out systemic racism.

“If a group of 13 strangers meeting an hour and a half once a week could dismantle institutional racism, it would have already been done by now,” De Andrade said.

The proposals being presented Monday are part of an interim report. A final report from the panel is expected to be delivered by April 1.

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