SALEM, Ore. — The first in a series of bills aimed at creating greater law enforcement accountability passed the Oregon Senate with full bipartisan support on Friday. Along with COVID-19 response measures, police accountability bills were supposed to form the core of legislation when Governor Kate Brown called the 2020 special session.
Senate Bill 1604 changes how law enforcement disciplinary actions are handled, limiting the possibility that those decisions are later reversed.
Under current law, police agencies can make a disciplinary decision if an officer is found to have committed misconduct. However, the officer can appeal that decision and move toward binding arbitration — and if the arbitrator decides on a lighter punishment, it will completely overturn the department's decision.
"This inconsistency presents legal challenges and confusion. It has also put the public at risk," Senate Democrats said in a statement.
With the new legislation, disciplinary action taken by the arbitrator must remain consist with the agency's decision, as long as the police department and union have agreed on a discipline guide during the collective bargaining process.
“This bill, simply, is about police accountability. It is about ensuring a level of confidence in our law enforcement, both from the public and within the agencies themselves,” said Senator Lew Frederick, D-Northeast Portland, a key champion of the bill. “Senate Bill 1604 goes hand in hand with the restorative justice commitments each of us have made to our constituents. It is clearer than ever that serious work is needed to improve trust and credibility in our law enforcement. When officers are not held accountable due to an inconsistent process, we directly work against building that trust.”
The bill also requires that a law enforcement agency work out a discipline guide in collective bargaining, ensuring that all parties involved know the consequences for misconduct.
“This bill is a start and it’s an important start. We have more work to do and I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to continue to address law enforcement accountability and improve justice for all Oregonians,” said Senator Frederick.
SB 1604 is one of a half-dozen police accountability bills under consideration during the special session, though others are more complex and may lead to greater disagreement. This bill passed on Friday with unanimous bipartisan support.
“This arbitration bill is an important fix to prevent union interference in law enforcement discipline, and as Senator Frederick said on the Floor, it is a good start to creating trust, fairness and transparency,” said Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, R-Stayton. “This bill should have been passed by the House of Representatives twice, but was blocked by the Speaker of the House and her caucus.”
The statement from Senate Democrats agreed that a similar bill had passed the Senate twice, but did not address why it had failed to pass the House.
SB 1604 now goes to the House for consideration.