Police chief Brian Uhl’s performance and conduct is coming under close scrutiny by the Oregon Village Board.
After trustees held multiple closed sessions this year to discuss Uhl’s performance, Village President Jeanne Carpenter released a statement Monday, Nov. 18, explaining the nature of those discussions and detailing several concerns.
Among them are citizen complaints about his behavior in general, and in particular about a stop of a juvenile. Complaints also regard Uhl’s role in the village’s ongoing talks with the school district about renewing its contract to keep a police officer stationed at the high school.
“In the interest of public transparency, I want to briefly outline the facts of why this agenda item is before us tonight,” Carpenter wrote in the statement.
Uhl gave a presentation to the board Monday night about how the police department would improve relationships with the community and school leaders. He opened with an apology to community members who were upset. Uhl also said there will be more of a focus on community policing, outreach and ways to keep kids safe and prevent violence in schools.
“We also welcome public scrutiny,” he added. “When the public has concerns, we must address them.”
His report drew praise from Carpenter.
“Through this report and with your actions tonight, I want to give you credit for that,” she said.
Carpenter’s statement said Uhl has been asked to “advise the board as to the effectiveness of the mission and strategies of the police department and the plan for Uhl to improve relations with the community overall.”
One of the key concerns Carpenter’s statement listed was from the Oregon School District’s board, which had clashed in prior years with Uhl on the topic of random drug searches. When school board members objected in recent weeks to some provisions of a new agreement for a school resource officer Uhl had asked for, including keeping an assault rifle in the school, the department made statements about the discussions on social media.
That, Carpenter suggested, has complicated negotiations on a new SRO deal.
OSD representatives “have made it very clear to us,” she said, they would not sign a final agreement unless it states Lt. Jennifer Pagenkopf oversees that program.
Uhl indicated in his presentation that has been and will continue to be the practice.
Carpenter’s statement also indicated the village has received “multiple communications from citizens” who complained about their interactions with Uhl.
One concerned the Sept. 6 stop of a juvenile. Carpenter said a complaint outlines the chief’s reasoning for stopping the child, conduct during the stop and communications with the child’s mother.
It did not elaborate other than to say the village is working with a private entity to investigate it.
“We expect a final report on this matter from the investigator in the coming weeks,” Carpenter said.
Uhl told the board he has a plan to address citizen complaints.
“I plan to have open meetings to address concerns from the community,” he said. “I have reached out to those people to plan those open meetings.”
A new agreement for the SRO has been in the works since at least August, when the school board voted down a proposal Uhl requested and the Village Board approved.
The school board objected to a provision that would have kept an AR-15 assault rifle on school premises, another that would have allowed police to interrogate children as young as 14 without parents or guardians present and to language some felt did not strongly enough emphasize the officer’s role as an educator. Their vote against came amid emotional testimony from about a dozen parents.
Hours after the Aug. 26 vote, Uhl commented on the department’s Facebook page, a post that drew 170 comments debating the decision and Uhl’s approach to reporting it.
“As early as April of this year, the Oregon Police Department and the Village Board requested to have meaningful discussions with School Board about the SRO agreement, but those meetings were denied,” it said. “It is our sincere hope we will start meaningful discussions in order to come to a speedy resolution to this matter and to have an SRO assigned to the schools.”
Carpenter’s statement characterized those comments as part of a public campaign that included “a particularly contentious interview” with WIBA FM.
Those actions interfered with the board’s attempts to come up with a new agreement with the school district, she suggested.
“I believed that further negotiations between the village board and school board required a different approach with the goal of helping the (board) repair our relationship with the school board,” Carpenter wrote. “I am proud to say that with the leadership of Trustee Jenna Jacobson and Trustee Randy Glysch, we now have an interim agreement with the school.”