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Judge OKs Portland police use-of-force reforms

Friday - 8/29/2014, 8:50pm  ET

STEVEN DUBOIS
Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A federal judge accepted a settlement on Friday between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Portland on reforms intended to improve the way police deal with mentally ill people.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon said he wants annual progress reports and set the first such hearing for September 2015.

The Justice Department began an investigation three years ago to determine whether Portland police engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force when dealing with the mentally ill.

Agency officials concluded such a pattern exists and began negotiating with city leaders on reforms.

U.S. Attorney for Oregon Amanda Marshall called the settlement a groundbreaking resolution for the citizens of Portland.

City officials had opposed annual hearings, and the Portland Police Bureau said Chief Mike Reese probably would not comment until next week.

Mayor Charlie Hales, who was not in office when the City Council approved the deal, said Simon's order allows Portland to move forward.

"We're serious about having a police force that appreciates the issues around mental illness and that utilizes de-escalation tactics," he said.

The agreement revises police rules on the use of stun guns. It also requires the city to create a crisis-intervention team, expand its mobile crisis units from a single vehicle to one vehicle per precinct, and to complete investigations of officer misconduct within 180 days. Some reforms have already been put in place.

The city agreed to hire a compliance officer to ensure the reforms are followed and to form a Community Oversight Advisory Board.

An advocacy group involved in negotiations praised Simon's requirement of annual progress reports.

"This ruling is a major step to creating a true community policing culture within the Portland Police Bureau in light of the national attention on deadly force and excessive force by the police department in the Michael Brown death in Ferguson, Missouri," the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform said in a statement.

The judge did not mention the unrest in Ferguson but he did wade into a topic that has arisen since Brown's death: Whether police should wear body cameras.

"The court notes that as the technology in this area continues to improve and become more dependable and affordable, more city police departments in the United States are choosing to employ this technology in ways that protect both law enforcement officer and the public they serve," he said in the decision.

Simon, however, said the omission of such devices does not justify nixing the deal that's been in the works for a couple years.

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