Open Oregon calls for police misconduct records to be public

Outraged demonstrators on our streets are pushing elected officials at all levels to consider a host of criminal justice reforms: a ban on tear gas, mandatory use of body cameras and a full reassessment of local law enforcement agencies’ budgets and responsibilities. 

We’d like to add another: More transparency about police conduct.

Open Oregon, a member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, shares the frustration of those stymied in their efforts to hold police agencies accountable.

And while calls for reforms have reached new heights, the lack of police accountability has plagued the system for decades.

In February this year, Michael Fesser, a black man, got a $600,000 settlement after his lawyers presented evidence that cops in the predominantly white Portland suburb of West Linn had harassed and falsely arrested him.

This occurred under the leadership of Chief Terry Timeus, who, years earlier, had been the subject of a wide-ranging misconduct complaint. A 100-page investigation of Timeus, paid for by the city in 2008, was hidden from the press at the time and Timeus continued to rise through the ranks.

What we still don’t know — because West Linn, like all Oregon police departments, keeps most personnel information secret  —  is how many officers quit, were forced to leave or were bought off when they complained about the ongoing internal problems.

“I’m aware of at least five who were paid to leave because they wanted to hold Timeus accountable and wanted a new chief,” says reporter Lee van der Voo, a former Open Oregon board member.

In 2017, The Oregonian/OregonLive published findings from a two-year investigation showing that dozens of Oregon police officers who had been fired for inept work (or worse) were still certified law enforcement officers with the ability to carry a badge and a gun.

After many challenges, The Oregonian/OregonLive won the right to see the misconduct records. But later, a Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) official spelled out in an email to the Portland Police Bureau a way to keep those records from reporters in the future.

The lesson the public agency overseeing police certification had apparently learned? Figure out new ways to hide.

Two statutes are at the heart of why it can be so difficult to hold police in Oregon more accountable. One public records exemption keeps complaints confidential if police are disciplined. A separate state statute keeps investigations confidential if police are cleared of wrongdoing.

Police unions have even made these exemptions part of their contracts.

In both cases, records can still be disclosed if someone can successfully argue release is in the public interest. But “public interest” is not defined in law, and requestors must argue the right to see a record without knowing what the record contains. 

To rebuild public trust, we must have proposals for public oversight.


    • Findings of misconduct — either by state or local jurisdictions — should be by default available to the public;
    • Findings of serious misconduct and terminations for cause should be posted online in a searchable database maintained by the state.
    • DPSST decisions to withdraw or retain someone’s police credentials should be presumptively available to the public.
    • Public bodies should be required to disclose any settlements related to police conduct, whether settled out of court or by insurance companies on the public body’s behalf.

Police are given the ultimate authority of government: the power to detain, the power to maim and even the power to kill. With that power must come the trust it will be used responsibly. 

That trust today is perilously thin, particularly among black Oregonians. It will take many bold reforms to restore that trust. 

Adding more transparency and accountability must be among them.


Shasta Kearns Moore, Acting President

Therese Bottomly, Treasurer

John Schrag

Emily Harris

Justin Mitzimberg

Dawn Albright

Norman Turill

Duane Bosworth

Nick Christensen

Kateri Walsh

Sunshine Week 2020: Truth and accuracy require public records

Sunshine Week is coming up — the annual celebration of open government put on by our parent organization, the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

The year Sunshine Week will take place from March 15 to 21. To help our state’s news organizations celebrate, we have prepared some commentary for use.

Our Acting President Shasta Kearns Moore wrote a 791-word, first-person column available for use here:

If you need a headshot of Shasta Kearns Moore, you can download this one:

Here are also versions that you can adapt to use as an editorial. There is a 575-word version and a 400-word version in this docx file: Open Oregon Editorials[4]

Thank you for helping to celebrate Sunshine Week!

Updated! Open Oregon’s Quick Reference Guide to Public Records

Thanks to a collaboration with Oregon Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall, an Open Oregon board member, our organization has been able to substantially improve and update the Public Records Guide that has been a beloved staple in classrooms, newsrooms and libraries across the state.

Please view the latest version here:

The same easy-to-read information about Oregon Public Records Law is there along with tips for record seekers and keepers alike. Updated features include information about the 2017 legislative reforms, web links, a table of contents and a huge list of resources from local and national organizations interested in open government. Please enjoy and feel free to share with credit to Open Oregon.

What you need to know about 2017 records law reforms

Oregon’s top political leadership tripped all over themselves in recent months to make state and local governments easier for citizens to scrutinize.

The Legislature passed no fewer than four public records laws — pushed by the governor and attorney general — in the session that just ended. And the secretary of state weighed in unexpectedly with his own plan for improving government transparency. Statesman Journal

Sunshine week 2017: Opinions and commentary

Sunshine Week 2017: Oregon newspapers weigh in on importance of transparency

The Corvallis Gazette Times:

The Mail Tribune in Medford:

The Oregonian/OregonLive:



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Public records, meetings laws amendments proposed in new legislation

A bill that would impose time limits for public bodies to respond to public records requests and limiting fees they may charge for the records has been introduced into the 2011 Legislature at the request of Attorney General John Kroger. Senate Bill 41 would require a public body to respond to a record request and state the amount of any fees within “10 working days.” Senate Bill 47 would require meeting minutes to be available 7 working days after the meeting.

Read Senate Bill 41

Read Senate Bill 47

The Register-Guard Editorial: Shine light on tax breaks

Economic development programs need transparency

Oregon spends about $350 million per biennium on programs designed to promote economic development, mostly by providing tax breaks to companies that create new jobs.

Oregonians need a clear picture of what they’re getting from these programs, both because of their big price tag and because it’s essential that the expenditures yield actual results. The state Legislature will consider a bill in its 2011 session that would give people a better view of economic development programs’ cost and effectiveness. Read the full editorial.

Published: Monday, Jan 3, 2011

New Public Records and Meetings Manual adds time limits for records replies, etc.

Attorney General John Kroger has added time limits for responses to public records requests and imposed a public interest requirement for fee waivers in the newly published, January 2011, edition of the Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual. In a press release, Kroger said,

“Changes to the manual reflect new legislation, recent court decisions and a fresh look at previous interpretations of the law. Key changes include:

  • “The manual revisits a longstanding legal interpretation that allowed public bodies to take as much time responding to public records requests as they could justify under the nebulous standard of “reasonableness.”  Focusing on the language of the law, the new manual clarifies that it is the public’s right of inspection that must be reasonable. Thus, public bodies must make records available as quickly as they reasonably can.  The manual suggests that 10 working days should usually be a sufficient amount of time to respond to typical records requests, while recognizing that more time may be required under some circumstances.[I.D 4, Page 11]
  • “The Attorney General can examine state agency fees if it appears that the true purpose of the fees is to effectively deny the request rather than recoup costs as the law allows. The manual previously opined that the Attorney General had no authority to review state agency fees.[I. D 6(b)(1), Page 17]
  • “When deciding whether a fee waiver or fee reduction is appropriate, the public interest in disclosing a document must be considered.  Previously, the manual invited public bodies to consider how much it would burden them to waive or reduce their fees, without requiring them to put the public’s interest in disclosure on the other side of the scales. [I. D6(b)(2)]
  • “The general discussion of exemptions has been revised to more closely follow the way in which public bodies typically consider requests.  The goal is to encourage pro-transparency decisions. [I. E, Page 23]
  • “The section describing the process for appealing a public body’s decision has been completely reorganized.  It is now more accurate and, hopefully, easier to follow.[I. G, Page 106]
  • “In addition to these revisions, there are numerous changes to improve clarity, precision, consistency and accuracy; to avoid redundancy; and to make the manual more current.”
  • To order a copy, fill out this form on the Department of Justice Web site.
  • The free online version of the manual can be found here.

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