People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
New Portland Police Contract: A Rush Job and a Hatchet Job
Portland City Council approved a contract with the Portland Police Association (PPA) on October 12. Even though the previous contract didn't expire until June 2017, outgoing Mayor Charlie Hales stated there was a rush to pass a new contract with increased salaries. Hales maintains that neighborhoods are in need of expanded police protection and that current wages hurt efforts to attract new and retain existing officers. Under the new contract, officers will make about 9% more by the end of three years. In exchange, the PPA made just one key concession: they gave up the right to wait 48 hours before being interviewed on police misconduct cases. In an Agreement attached to the contract, the PPA also agreed to eliminate 12 grievances,* which did not require making changes to the contract. Sweetening the pot, the City agreed that review of body camera footage is mandatory for bargaining. At a meeting attended by 91% of PPA members, 95% voted to accept the contract. After an initial hearing, Council shut out community members wanting to testify on three further occasions. To celebrate their win, PPB officers used violence to eject people from City Hall after the vote, which some have referred to as their "victory lap" celebrating a new contract with plenty more money and no more accountability.
This contract does nothing to ensure or improve police accountability. In fact, it gives more control over police accountability to the PPA. While getting rid of the 48 hour rule is a step in the right direction, PPA members did not think giving it up would affect them (Portland Tribune, October 4). On the PPA's Facebook page, President Daryl Turner used his Thanksgiving message to say the agreement addresses "many" community concerns, only pointing to the deletion of the 48 hour rule, "which builds upon community trust while protecting officers' rights through Supreme Court rulings." In cases that involve less than deadly force (Tasers, "bean- bag" guns, broken arms, etc.), the Agreement reinforces officers will have a "reasonable amount of time" to review their police reports and video footage before being interviewed.
There are other problems with the contract. The City should have fixed the binding arbitration clause so officers who are fired stay fired. Portland Copwatch (PCW) made a suggestion to move deadly force incidents to the civil service board system so a judge, not a potentially biased arbitrator, might decide if firing an officer was valid. There are also a number of issues in the contract which act to impede the police oversight system. Independent Police Review Division (IPR) Director Constantin Severe outlined some of those aspects in a presentation to Council on September 14 (p. 5).
But perhaps most egregious is the attachment on police worn cameras. While body cameras are not
part of the actual contract, they are in the Agreement, which is now public policy. The Agreement
references a draft policy that was circulated along with the contract, and notes "the PPA and City
specifically agree that the subject of review of audio/video as set forth in [the draft policy] is
mandatory for bargaining." The draft policy allows officers to review footage before writing
police reports. The City Attorney released a memo on October 11, the day before the vote, saying
they believe the subject of body cameras is "permissive" for bargaining. In other words, the
policy the City signed is contrary to their attorneys' belief and now binds the City to negotiate over
cameras even if courts rule it is not mandatory to do so. The only amendment Council made to the
entire package was to require the Bureau to set up a stakeholder group to review the body camera
policy before it is finalized. Ultimately, though, the Agreement means the PPA will have final say
over City policy.
The City predicts the new contract will drive up pension costs by as much as $7.5 million in five years (Oregonian, November 18).
While the contract is deeply flawed, the process by which it was developed and adopted was at least as bad. The City began negotiating without telling anyone they were doing so, nor making the bargaining sessions public (which they were at least partially in 2010 and 2013). Council did not invite the Auditor or IPR to give input into the contract, even though they are responsible for police accountability. The Auditor and IPR Director wrote a sharply worded memo asking the contract be modified to allow them to compel officer testimony, and noting the policy of allowing officers to view body camera footage before making statements or writing reports is bad practice.
After the Auditor's memo came out, the Mayor's office wrote emails to numerous entities which receive funding from the City, including Neighborhood Associations, asking for support of the contract the day before the October 5 hearing. When one Association declined to weigh in, partly because their bylaws require a vote which could not happen in time, the Mayor's staff berated them. In addition, several of the emails said disparaging things about people opposed to the contract, such as:
"Thanks to a lot of genuine pain and trauma created by police shootings elsewhere in our country, people in Portland have recently spoken loudly about the need for reform. That is good and helpful. What is NOT good nor helpful is that some of these advocates have seized on this new police union contract as 'the problem here' and are urging the City Council not to approve it."
The Mayor also called private meetings with representatives from several organizations who had testified about the contract. He told some of them to reverse their positions. He confronted some with photos of a young woman who was tragically killed by a car on SE Hawthorne. When asked why he didn't negotiate for the accountability measures the community has been asking for, the Mayor's reply was "mea culpa."
Council allowed public testimony on adoption of the contract on September 28. On October 5, they suspended their meeting after some disturbance in council chambers. Calling a special meeting on October 6, Mayor Hales separated the public from the Council. People who signed up to testify on other matters had to be escorted from the Portland Building into City Hall by an accredited City employee, then were only let into Council Chambers one at a time. Several people, beginning with PCW's Dan Handelman, used the other items to roundaboutly comment on the contract and the process (#BridgeCrane). On October 12, people who had signed up to testify on multiple agenda items received red tickets to enter Chambers. After mild disruption, the Mayor recessed the meeting to the Rose Room on the third floor, and the stairways were blocked by two dozen armed police. Only one person with a ticket was ever allowed up to speak. As the public became more agitated after the vote, the police did not use de-escalation tactics to calm the crowd, but instead pepper- sprayed people (including an infant) and pushed people out the door onto concrete as if they were volleyballs.
At a special meeting on October 24, the Mayor attempted to calm the growing concern by City
Employees who'd been locked down at City Hall and witnessed the brutalization of community
members. Rather than address the violence, though, the Mayor and Chief praised the contents of the
contract. It is almost as if politicians and top government officials live in a different reality.
Council has seen raucous community behavior at any number of hearings-- the gas terminal, the covering of Portland's reservoirs, fluoridation, and other issues. They have never before invoked the Oregon public meetings law's very narrow exception to meet in a separate room.
See the fact sheet PCW handed out to people attending the Mayor's special meeting at portlandcopwatch.org/PPA_facts.pdf.
*-The only PPA grievance that was dropped having to do with accountability addressed how many IPR investigators can sit in on an interrogation.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.