Eugene Chief of Police Chris Skinner spoke with a group of human rights volunteers on April 15 about ways to improve relationships between law enforcement and marginalized communities.
“Part of what my goal is as your police chief is to build this police department to meet the needs of this community,” Skinner said, addressing the attendees. “And that means a lot of different things depending on who you are and depending on what your need is.”
The April 15 meeting, held by Whole Eugene Community United, began with testimonials from community members highlighting concerns surrounding the safety of marginalized people.
Daniel Borson of Eugene spoke first, detailing his childhood in a Jewish community in California where police were trusted and helpful.
“It came as a shock to me that many of my friends in marginalized communities did not view the police in a quite so favorable light,” Borson said. “Many of the people I know just automatically assume that the police are white nationalists.”
Borson went on to cite the rise in hate-related crimes in Eugene as the driving force for distrust among authority figures in Oregon.
“Oregon has a long history of white supremacy and white nationalism, and police across the country have a history of being a part of that,” Borson said. “Given the current climate, I had to ask myself, will my wellbeing as a Jew and as a gay man come down to the question ‘on whose side really are the police?’”
The FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics report for 2017, released publicly last November, showed that Eugene reported more hate crimes than any other city in the state, including Portland, whose population is triple that of Eugene’s.
Katie Babits, the former human rights and equity analyst for the city who works closely with Eugene Police, spoke with the Daily Emerald last November, saying that the high number of reported hate crimes is due to Eugene’s advance methods of documentation, in comparison with Portland, who categorizes hate crimes differently. One example would be graffiti — which as of last year, wasn’t documented as a hate crime in the Portland metropolitan area, according to Babits.
“We have probably more layers of accountability than any other police department,” Skinner said. “And we want to continue to build trust and confidence so that people feel comfortable reporting crimes, knowing that they'll be treated with a victim-centered approach.”
Fabio Andrade, who became the current human rights and equity analyst three months ago, attended the meeting to provide staff support for the volunteers of WeCU. Andrade, who moved to Eugene from Brazil before receiving a doctorate in education at UO, was there to listen.
“I don’t just work with the human rights commission,” Andrade said. “My job allows me to provide support to the city in a number of unique ways, including showing up for volunteers.”
Ana Molina, an immigrant from Mexico who was raised in California, spoke about the undocumented citizens fear of reporting crimes and the racial prejudice they face when speaking with police.
“People don't feel safe reporting crimes,” Molina said. “You don't know if the police are going to look into the crime or look into you.”
Skinner responded by reassuring Molina that Eugene will remain a sanctuary city for undocumented citizens.
“We will not be using local resources for any level of immigration enforcement,” Skinner said. “And people know that’s a nonstarter for the Eugene police department.”
Skinner ended the meeting by highlighting the need for marginalized community members to feel safe reporting crimes.
“Often times people don’t report and we can’t address the problem,” Skinner said. “We encourage people to continue bringing concerns to us, no matter what.”