As the Oregon Police Department has worked toward accreditation, Village of Oregon officials have been complimentary of its work.
But some individuals from the community have said the department can and should do more, suggesting it could use improved relations with the community and increased professionalism.
After a months-long process of updating several of its policies, the department held a public information and feedback session Wednesday, Sept. 25 as part of its accreditation effort. Most meeting attendees were local government officials, all of whom offered praise for the department’s work in recent years.
“I know the department (Chief Brian Uhl) walked into when we hired him four years ago, and this is a different department,” Jeanne Carpenter, village president said at the meeting.
Village administrator Mike Gracz and Trustee Amanda Peterson concurred.
“Brian came here when the department needed a lot of work and really made some great strides,” Gracz said.
However, few members of the public were present in the 15-minute meeting, which Uhl told the Observer is a common occurrence. Only one comment was submitted, in the form of a letter from the Oregon Allies, a group that has been running a Facebook page critical of the department in recent months.
An accreditation team representing the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Group was also present at the meeting as part of its visit to examine whether OPD policies, procedures and management are in compliance with the accreditation group’s standards.
OPD started the accreditation process shortly after Uhl became chief in 2015, and it gained core accreditation in 2017, meaning it met 49 standards relating to its disciplinary system, use of force, records security, evidence collection, temporary detention procedures and training. The full accreditation requires meeting 229 standards, much of which relate to fiscal management, how it addresses community grievances, media relations and organization.
“The village has had the opportunity to review all those policies and procedures and approve them,” Carpenter said at the meeting.
The Oregon Allies submitted a letter pointing out areas the department should consider, including increased transparency, community engagement and professionalism. Uhl told the Observer in an email the department didn’t receive any other public comments prior to or after the meeting. Members of the public also had the option of calling in their feedback.
The Allies comments had both compliments and criticism for the department.
“The OPD should be commended for the work they have done to make a large portion of the community feel safe and supported,” the letter stated. “Many of our police officer friends and neighbors are dedicated to public safety and committed to making Oregon a good community.”
The letter addresses several concerns, including transparency, equity, diversity, professionalism, accountability and oversight. In the days following the public meeting, a letter from the Allies to the Observer emphasized that the group appreciates the department’s work.
“There are some in Oregon, as well as members of the OPD and Chief Uhl, who have attempted to equate the Allies’ work as ‘anti-law enforcement,’” the letter states. “This could not be farther from the truth.”
The letter for the accreditation committee stated OPD should “proactively increase the data they provide to the public” and asserted the public annual report it publishes doesn’t show the impact of policing on the community or any policing trends but is rather mostly “feel-good” activities.
The comments also address the Police Commission and how it “rarely meets in a transparent and statutorily appropriate fashion.” The village’s web site shows three Police Commission meetings have been held since early 2017.
It also states that the department can do more to listen better to vulnerable people in the community, to communicate more neutrally on social media, to provide better equity in how it policies and to ensure its force is more diverse.
The Allies’ letter to the Observer states its mission has always been to bring attention to the experiences of “underrepresented communities” in Oregon and advocate for how government policies and actions affect such groups.
“It was those equity minded values that motivated the Allies to engage in the OPD accreditation process,” the letter stated.