Baker City Manager Fred Warner Jr. is proposing alternative versions of the excessive force policy for the police department that some councilors have objected to.
An official from Business Oregon, the state agency that oversees a federal grant program, told the city that it must approve the policy to qualify for a $1.5 million grant that New Directions Northwest plans to use to build a Wellness Center for its clients who are in addiction or mental health treatment.
But Councilors Doni Bruland and Lynette Perry balked at approving the 2-paragraph policy, calling it government overreach.
“I do not believe a state bureaucratic agency should dictate to a community what laws or policies we need to do,” Bruland said during the City Council’s Oct. 13 meeting, when Warner first asked councilors to approve the policy to qualify for the $1.5 million Community Development Block Grant.
“Our state laws are changing on a dime and I’m really in fear that if we pass this we would really be putting our populace in danger,” Perry said.
Bruland and Perry have pointed out that the Baker City Police Department has an existing 8-page use of force policy which states, in its first paragraph, that “Officers shall use only that amount of force that reasonably appears necessary given the facts and circumstances perceived by the officer at the time of the event to accomplish a legitimate law enforcement purpose.”
Baker City Police Chief Ray Duman, however, told councilors that he has no concerns about the proposed policy, saying it would not affect how police officers do their jobs.
During the Oct. 13 meeting Bruland’s motion to postpone a decision on the federal policy was approved 4-3, with Bruland, Perry and councilors Arvid Andersen and Larry Morrison voting in favor.
Mayor Loran Joseph and councilors Randy Schiewe and Jason Spriet were opposed to delaying a decision on the policy.
Councilors will consider Warner’s proposed alternative policies when they meet tonight at 7 o’clock.
Joseph will conduct the meeting from City Hall, but the six other councilors will attend via Zoom, according to the city.
The public can attend the meeting at City Hall, 1655 First St.
Warner said Monday morning that although he sent the proposed policies to Business Oregon, he had not heard from the agency whether either of the policies would comply with the federal requirement and thus make the city eligible for the $1.5 million grant for New Directions.
The excessive force policy that Business Oregon mandates for block grant recipients dates to 1990. It reads:
“It is the policy of the City of Baker City that:
1. Its law enforcement personnel shall not use excessive force against any individuals engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations; and
2. Applicable state and local laws that prohibit physically barring entrance to or exit from a facility or location which is the subject of such nonviolent civil rights demonstrations within its jurisdiction shall be enforced.”
Warner is suggesting two possible alternatives.
First proposed alternative policy
This proposal incorporates the 2 paragraphs of the federal block grant policy, but with additional language including descriptions of the terms “excessive force” and “nonviolent demonstrations.”
The proposed policy states that Baker City, as a block grant recipient, “acknowledges its responsibility to adhere to applicable federal, state and local regulations requiring units of government receiving CDBG funds to adopt and enforce ‘excessive force provisions.’ ”
The proposed policy’s section on excessive force reads: “There is no specific definition of excessive force under federal law. Current case law provides a basis that excessive force is determined on the “objective reasonableness” of the force based on the situation. This standard will be determined by our local judicial system.”
The section on nonviolent demonstrations reads: “Typically, nonviolent demonstrations or nonviolent resistance are peaceful tactics to achieve social change. Examples include distribution of information, picketing, marches and vigils.”
Second proposed alternative policy
This proposed policy focuses on the issue of nonviolent demonstrations.
It reads, in part: “The City of Baker City respects the rights of all people to peaceably assemble. It is the policy of Baker City to not unreasonable interfere with, harass, intimidate, use excessive force or discriminate against persons engaged in the lawful exercise of all their rights, while preserving the peace, protecting life and preventing the destruction of property.”
The councilors’ packets for tonight’s meeting also include a letter from Baker County’s two state legislative representatives, Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane.
The legislators, in a Nov. 4 letter addressed to Joseph and the other city councilors, wrote that “Several of you have brought to our attention your concerns regarding the Community Development Block Grants and the requirement for an excessive force provision.”
Findley and Owens included in their letter a statement from Business Oregon reiterating that the excessive force policy is a requirement for cities applying for block grants.
“We have spoken with several outside law enforcement officers to get their take on the requirement,” the legislators wrote. “None of them expressed any concern with the language in the provision, as it is just codifying common practices that are already in use.
“Business Oregon also noted that while they have had one city ask for background information about this policy, not one city or county has elected not to use this federal program because of it.”
Findley and Owens concluded their letter by writing: “It would be our suggestion that you pass the provision and move forward so that these funds can be put to good use in your community.”
Cities and counties often request block grants not only for their projects, but on behalf of nonprofits such as New Directions Northwest.
In 2015 Baker County received a $1.4 million block grant to help the Eagle Valley Fire Department build a new fire hall in Richland.
County commissioners approved the excessive force policy required by federal rules.