City News

Councilors call for review of Salem police protest actions and bias training

Salem City Hall. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The Salem City Council wants a to review of a widely circulated video in which a Salem police officer was recorded last week helping a group of armed people outside a downtown salon avoid running afoul of a city-imposed curfew last week.

Several city councilors vented their frustrations about the incident at Monday’s meeting, asking Police Chief Jerry Moore to expedite his agency’s review of the June 1 event which occurred while a large protest against police brutality happened blocks away.

“Another small group of persons downtown at the behest of a local business owner created a much more dangerous situation by openly carrying weapons of assault and death…Does this blatant intimidation and threats contribute to peace and safety, advance the peaceful exercise of protest rights, calm the situation or do just the opposite,” according to a joint statement from Councilors Chris Hoy, Tom Andersen and Cara Kaser read before the full council.

The three councilors called for a systematic review of policies and training that “facilitate fairness, justice and accountability” and asked for more bias training for officers. The councilors didn’t specify who could do the review.

Moore addressed councilors after that statement, summarizing his department’s response to nightly protests. He said police officers persuaded armed individuals outside Glamour Salon that it wasn’t their role to protect parts of the city.

Moore said the police department plans to internally review all of the actions it took during the protests but wouldn’t give a concrete timeline as to when the review could be completed. He didn’t describe how the review would be done.

Councilor Matt Ausec asked that the review of the Glamour Salon incident be completed first.

Ausec said he wanted to understand how police calculate when to use force, because downtown business owners were more concerned about heavily armed people “defending” downtown than protesters.

“Weigh the values of the community, which should be to protect life and liberty less than property,” he said.

Notably absent from the councilors’ discussion any reference to nearly 30 letters of public comment demanding to shift part of the police budget to community and social programs.

It’s part of a larger call nationwide to defund the police and instead use taxpayer money for other areas of need in cities.

Christine Shanaberger wrote in her submission that councilors should revise the budget to reduce police spending as the department takes about a third of the general fund.

In 2019, the Salem Police Department had a $44.2 million budget out of the city’s $128.7 million in general fund expenditures. This year, the police department is budgeted for $46.9 million out of a $139 million proposed budget.

 “Over the past five years, our community has been asked to provide an inordinate amount of support to the police department—including to build their new facility, which we were forced to agree to in order to obtain funds for the critical seismic retrofitting renovations to the public library,” Shanaberger wrote.

Mary Nikas suggested removing funding for military-style police training, prohibiting the use of chemical weapons like tear gas and creating a commission to explore where services can be provided without armed police officers.

“As a white woman who does not have the under‐pinning background of police violence against my skin color, I still flinch and feel uncomfortable in the presence of bulky police officers carrying side arms, mace and walking with the uncomfortable bulk of protective armor.  Police should make us feel safe and at ease,” Nikas said.

Other public comments pressed for the Salem-Keizer School District to end its school resource officer program, which places police officers in schools.

Councilor Jackie Leung called for the same during Monday’s meeting.

She also suggested the city explore joining the 8cantwait campaign, which calls for police departments to adopt eight policies like warning before shooting, requiring de-escalation and banning shooting at moving vehicles.

“The proclamation we read tonight is not enough if those words aren’t going to be put into action,” she said.

Leung also asked staff to explore allowing citizens to comment virtually. The council has been meeting via Zoom and only allowing written comments.

Councilor Vanessa Nordyke proposed and councilors unanimously approved a requirement for the city to develop diversity, inequity and inclusion training for all current and incoming city councilors and department heads.

“As we have new people coming on board, that strikes me as the best opportunity for all of us to begin this training,” Nordyke said. 

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