People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Community Campaign Pushes for More Accountability
Hoping to avoid a repeat of 2016, when the City secretly negotiated the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Portland Police Association (PPA), leading to angry protests put down brutally by police (PPR #70), community groups have been organizing to demand improvements to the contract. The City Council itself has also taken a proactive approach this time around, and the community even had a chance to have a dialogue with PPA President Daryl Turner about the issue.
Echoing calls for it to be easier to fire officers who use deadly force or racially profile, stronger and more responsive civilian oversight, and a more transparent process, many organizations have placed the contract in the public eye. On August 26, the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform (AMAC) held a community forum attended by over 70 people, at which a panel briefly outlined issues around the law, past history, and how the labor movement can support contract changes without being against the right to collectively bargain.
A campaign headed up by Unite Oregon then kicked off publicly with a news conference on September 11, releasing a letter outlining community demands which is now signed by over 30 organizations including Portland Copwatch (PCW), the AMAC, Portland Jobs with Justice, and environmental, human rights and religious groups. The event was widely covered in the media and led to an angry diatribe by Turner in response, claiming an attack on workers' rights (see "Rapping Back"). A separate letter signed by several of the groups in the campaign was released in late September outlining several policies, such as making the Citizen Review Committee's standard for reviewing misconduct cases less deferential to police.
On October 1, DeRay McKesson and Sam Sinyangwe of the national group Campaign Zero were invited by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to present information at a City Council Work Session. They showed how certain kinds of contract provisions such as those guiding discipline have led to better results in various cities. They also pointed out how improving policies and state laws might, in addition to improving the contract, make things safer not just for the community, but for the officers as well. Turner accused the people asking for accountability of being anti-worker and, as he did in September, of being "self-serving." The presentation was unprecedented and was only hampered by the City Attorney's caution that Council members expressing opinions about what should or should not be in the contract could be accused of bad-faith bargaining.
Rolling with that caution, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Hardesty co- sponsored two community forums to hear the public's concerns and ideas for bargaining. The elected officials were not allowed to participate in the discussion but listened carefully at the discussion tables which were based on people's greatest concerns. At the first forum on November 18 held at PCC Cascade, those topics matched the campaign's: oversight, accountability and deadly force. The second forum on December 16 on PCC's Southeast campus had a comparable size audience of about 80 people, focusing again on oversight and accountability, but adding hiring, firing and training.
At the Portland Committee for Community Engaged Policing's November 19 meeting, Officer Turner appeared and answered questions from the PCCEP and the community (see DOJ article). While members of the campaign had previously met with Turner in private, it was a rare opportunity to get his responses to community concerns in a public forum.
The negotiations are slated to begin in January. In 2010-11, the negotiations were held in public but were actually discussed behind closed doors (PPR #54); in 2013, they alternated public and private sessions, only talking about issues other than public policy in the open ones (PPR #61). In 2016, nobody knew the negotiations had started, leading PCW, the AMAC and the local NAACP chapter to send a letter to Council in August... when the negotiations were for all intents and purposes over. The end result of Mayor Hales' 2016 bargaining was a $9 million or more increase in salaries in return for getting rid of just one bad part of the contract-- the "48 hour rule" which had delayed officer invterviews in deadly force cases.
In related news, Patricia Barger was hit by police batons outside City Hall after Council passed the 2016 contract. She received a $10,000 settlement by a vote of City Council on October 23.
The PPA is constantly talking about being "understaffed" and pointing to FBI figures about what they think is the ideal population-to-police ratio. However, they do not look at the relatively low crime rates in Portland compared to other large cities with relatively more cops. Turner keeps pointing to 120 open positions but fails to mention that 50 of those are new officers who were approved by City Council last year, so it's likely the officers have been hired but aren't through their hiring and training process yet. That said, if it's any indication of the quality of new recruits, the Oregonian reported on October 26 that Officer Dustyn Matlock suffered broken bones while he and other recruits were "trying out their skills during an impromptu workout session" at the state academy after hours.
The community letters and more info can be found at
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.