By Don MacGillivray
The Portland Police Union (PPU) contract is now complete and final after a lengthy, contentious process. The previous contract was expected to expire June 2020 and be replaced by a new contract after a six month negotiation process. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the many racially violent protests that summer, the contract renewal was put off for one year.
A contributing factor was that Portland voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure for an independent Police Oversight Board to provide more police accountability. In addition, a number of police reform bills were adopted in the Oregon legislature in 2021 and 2022. The US Department of Justice settlement agreement of 2012 was also still in force and pressuring the PPU to change.
The City wanted the contract negotiations to be open to the public, but the PPU wanted them closed. 11 negotiation meetings were held after January 2021 and agreement was reached on only 30 of the 68 articles, leaving many contentious issues unresolved. In July 2021, the negotiations moved into closed door mediation sessions with no public communication about what was happening.
In January 2022, an agreement was announced and the new four-year, 120-page police union contract was made public. It was unanimously approved by City Council and 90 percent of the Portland Police Association (PPA) members.
Greater police accountability and transparency is one of the important improvements that advocates wanted from the new contract. In November 2020 more than 80 percent of Portland voters voted to establish the independent Police Oversight Board (POB) to replace the much-criticized Internal Police Review Board and the Citizen Review Committee.
The newly established POB will review officer accountability and various methods will be used to sanction police officers. It is expected to be up and running within the next year or two. In the new contract, the PPB has the right to challenge the still undefined POB to City Council, but they will not be able file grievances against its existence.
A new approach to the accountability issue includes adding the entire PPB discipline guide as part of the PPU contract. The discipline guide defines the consequences for officer misconduct and objectifies the process of enforcing its rules. These can range from non-disciplinary command counseling, a reprimand, suspension or termination.
Too often the Mayor and City Council have had difficulty holding officers accountable. When appropriate, officer penalties will be in the form of mediation, retraining or additional education.
The City is working to expand the Portland Street Response (PSR) program that dispatches a mental health worker and a fire bureau paramedic to non-violent 911 crisis calls. The PPU is afraid that this will reduce the size of the police force. The new police contract allows for the expansion of the PSR while the City works to increase the number of police officers.
The PPB is currently more than 100 officers below the size approved for Portland, which requires many officers to work overtime. A committee made up of staff from the PPB, the Fire Bureau and Emergency Communications will work ensure that there is effective integration of the various departments. It is expected that the PSR will respond to about five percent of 911 calls currently answered by the police.
One of the incentives given to the PPU was salary increases. To stem the contraction of the Portland police force, current officers will receive a $5,000 bonus when the new contract takes effect and another $2,000 bonus after two years. New recruits will receive a $5,000 hiring bonus.
Other non-sworn specialists and employees will receive $3,000 retention bonuses. Rehired police officers will also receive the $5,000 bonus. In addition, officers will receive 13-20 percent pay increases, as well as cost of living increases and pay incentives, for extra training, higher certification levels or advanced college degrees. The issue of outside employment remains as an unresolved issue for future discussion.
The 13 months of discussion have left several difficult issues yet to be resolved. One of these is about the use of body cameras. Nearly every large city police force currently uses them, but there are a wide variety of rules concerning how this is done. It is expected to cost approximately $2.6 million for the 600 or more body-worn cameras. The details involve who gets to see the video and when and how the videos are used. The details will be determined through discussions among City Council, the US Department of Justice and the PPA.
Some believe the new contract will help everyone find common ground by working together, while others worry that the PPU remains too recalcitrant and opposed to the public safety changes that are needed in Portland.