A city panel that will recommend ways to reduce systemic racism in Portland will hold the first of two scheduled public listening sessions next week.

The city said in a news release that the Racial Equity Steering Committee will hold its first session at 5 p.m. Thursday to solicit feedback about “the ways that the city interacts with the area agencies and organizations in the name of public safety.” It will be a virtual listening session held via Zoom, and a link will be available on the city’s website.

“Everyone’s voice is important,” said City Councilor Pious Ali, who co-chairs the committee. “What you have to say will be valued and validated, because it will help shape the recommendations we make to the city.”

Mayor Kate Snyder announced and the City Council approved creation of the 13-member committee in July, amid weeks of people filling streets in Portland and throughout the country to protest policy brutality and racial inequities. Members were appointed in September and charged with issuing recommendations to the City Council by Jan. 22 so they can be considered in the next city budget.

The committee is reviewing the city’s approach to public safety, including the expanded roles police officers play when responding to mental illness and substance abuse issues, along with traditional duties such as enforcing traffic violations and investigating violent crimes, noise complaints and other incidents. The group’s goal is to identify and recommend changes to policies, structures and procedures that disproportionately affect people of color.

Data released by Portland police shows Black people are subject to use-of-force at higher rates than their population proportion would suggest.

From 2016 to 2019, the department recorded 65 to 90 use-of-force cases each year. Black people were involved in 16.6 to 26.1 percent of those incidents, according to the data, but they made up only 7 to 8 percent of the city’s population during that period.

Through the listening sessions, the committee hopes to learn which organizations enhance public safety and ways the city can support that work, according to the release.

The committee has defined public safety as: protecting the wellbeing of people of all races, ethnicities, communities and organizations; safeguarding people from crimes, disaster and other potential dangers and threats, and reducing fear; and ensuring that all people get a fair and equitable chance to lead a high quality of life, regardless of race.

An additional listening session has been scheduled for 5 p.m. on Jan. 14.

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