If you wondered what possible connection there could be between a $1.5 million federal grant to build a wellness center for people undergoing treatment for addiction or mental health issues, and a policy regarding the use of excessive force by Baker City Police ... well, who wouldn’t wonder?
Some members of the Baker City Council were understandably perplexed about the matter that landed on their Tuesday meeting agenda. New Directions Northwest has been awarded a $1.5 million Community Development Block Grant to build the wellness center for its clients in Baker City. Although these grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development often go to nonprofits, a government entity, usually a city or county, endorses and oversees the grant.
Recently Baker City officials learned from the state that to qualify for the grant, the City Council has to approve a 64-word policy that reads, in part: “(The city’s) law enforcement personnel shall not use excessive force against any individuals engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations.”
Councilor Doni Bruland said Tuesday that she is “adamantly opposed” to the policy. Councilors voted 4-3 to postpone a decision so they can solicit opinions from residents.
The policy dates to 1990. When Baker County received a block grant to build a new fire station in Richland a few years ago, the county was required to approve the policy for the Sheriff’s Office.
It is nonsensical for the federal government to mandate that cities and counties pass such a policy to qualify for a grant that has nothing to do with police and excessive force.
But as silly as that requirement is, the more important point is that it’s also superfluous, and thus harmless. Baker City Police Chief Ray Duman told councilors that the policy — which, curiously, does not define “excessive force” — would not affect how officers do their jobs, including during nonviolent civil rights demonstrations. The police department already has an 8-page use of force policy that both protects the public and allows police to do their jobs. This brief addendum wouldn’t supersede the existing, much more comprehensive, use of force policy.
The Council is justified in lodging a complaint with the state about larding grant applications with this unnecessary and unrelated policy. But there’s no legitimate reason for the Council to turn down $1.5 million for a project that helps local residents.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor