BAKER CITY — The excessive force policy the Baker City Council has been asked to approve to allow New Directions Northwest to receive a $1 million grant to build a Wellness Center is a routine part of awarding federal Community Development Block Grants.
Nathan Buehler, a spokesperson for Business Oregon, the agency that administers the program in Oregon, said Thursday, Oct. 15, the Baker City Council can agree not to approve the policy, but in doing so, New Directions would not receive the $1 million funding for its project.
"It's not an Oregon thing, it's not a Business Oregon thing and it's not a new thing," he said. "We don't have the ability to waive the federal requirement."
The environment in Oregon, which has included Black Lives Matter demonstrations and protests over the past five months, might account for a few more questions being asked about the policy that has been in place since 1990, Buehler said.
Business Oregon has been involved in the program for 10 years, he said, and he has not heard of any city in Oregon refusing to adopt such a policy and thereby refusing grant dollars.
Provisions of the National Affordable Housing Act state, "no CDBG funds may be obligated or expended to any unit of general local government that fails to adopt and enforce a policy of prohibiting the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies within its jurisdiction against any individuals engaged in nonviolent civil rights demonstrations."
If the grant recipient doesn't have a specific excessive force policy, the city council or county board of commissioners must adopt one, according to a federal handbook. The Baker County Board of Commissioners adopted the policy a few years ago when it received a $1.5 million block grant to build a new fire station in Richland.
Police Chief Ray Duman said he did not believe the policy would change how his officers perform their jobs. Duman said the department's eight-page use of force policy directs officers to use reasonable and necessary force to conduct an arrest.
"If you use excessive force, you're putting yourself and the city in a tough liability situation," he said.
Duman said he can understand why there might be some concern about the city having to approve an additional policy that specifically deals with nonviolent civil rights demonstrations.
City Manager Fred Warner Jr. said he will present more details about the policy to the Council in the near future for further discussion, and invited community comment as well.
Duman said he believes that could resolve the matter.
"I think it's something we can work through very easily," he said. "I would hate to see New Directions Northwest not get the grant. I think it would be good for the community to have a wellness center."