Protestors gathered at the Oregon State Capitol and marched to the site of the new Salem Police Department during the third night of demonstrations against police violence on Monday, June 1. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The Oregon Legislature is moving forward with a package of bills that will limit the use of tear gas, make disciplinary records more accessible, create uniform training standards among others geared toward police reform.

Police accountability has been on the minds of Oregon lawmakers after George Floyd died while he was in the custody of Minneapolis police. Floyd’s death sparked a wave of protests across the country, including in Salem.

But Salem city officials and activists say the bills haven’t been a priority for them.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee passed multiple bills with bipartisan support.

The bills would place restrictions on police use of sound devices, strobe lights, pepper spray and impact projectiles to control crowds.

It would also restrict the use of tear gas, which Salem police used for the first time in its history last summer during racial justice protests.

Lt. Treven Upkes, Salem police spokesman, said it was too early to comment on the bills because it’ll take time to work out how they’ll be implemented with the city attorney and local district attorneys.

“Honestly for us, there are so many bills going through, we are just waiting until we know which ones are finalized,” he said.

Under the legislation, officers would be screened for racial biases, and have to undergo equity training as well as CPR and airway physiology. It would also create a state database on police misconduct, and officers would be required to report misconduct by other officers.

Law enforcement agencies around the state would be required to track data on the use of force under the legislation. The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission would produce an annual report based on the data. Law enforcement agencies would also be limited in what surplus military equipment they could purchase, under a bill passed earlier by the House.

The legislation also removes the legal requirement that officers arrest people in a crowd after an order to disperse is given. Officers working in crowds would also be required to wear identification.

“The police reform bills haven’t been a hefty subject for the city’s legislative priorities,” Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett. “We are doing our own work on police.”

He said the recent legislation has been more aimed at Portland, which has seen months of unrest and violence over police accountability and racial justice.

Last fall, the city of Salem launched an audit into the ways local police interact with people experiencing homelessness or mental health crisis and minorities. A draft of the audit was released last month, a draft of the audit recommended police evaluate how it responds to protests. 

Salem activists involved in last summer’s protests seeking police accountability, including Epilogue Kitchen & Cocktail owner Jonathan Jones and local NAACP President Reginald Richardson, said they haven’t been paying close attention to the bills moving through the Legislature and didn’t have comment.

Jodi Sherwood, chair of Salem’s community police review board, said she’s focused on an audit of the Salem Police Department. Last month, a draft of the audit was released that found that Salem police needed better collaboration with community groups and a formal community-oriented policing plan. Police chief Trevor Womack said the process for a strategic plan will begin later this year with hopes to complete it by the start of 2022.

“That’s where the focus should lie,” said Sherwood, who chairs the Community Engagement Audit Steering Committee. “Outreach is really key and we want to formalize it going forward.”

Sherwood said she was encouraged by bills that would require more screening of officers and equity training, which she said would create uniform standards across Oregon.

She hopes the legislation prompts policing agencies across the state to share information and best practices with each other, as well as what accountability on misconduct looks like.

Sherwood said those conversations are already happening in Salem.

“I think we have a very professional law enforcement agency in Salem,” she said, adding that with Womack taking over as the new chief in December and the audit, Salem is “having those conversations in a new and better way.”

   Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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