The city's controversial union contract with the Portland Police Association will be open to reporters and the public, it has emerged today. The police union's four-year contract with the city is due to expire on June 30, and needs to be re-negotiated soon. It has become increasingly controversial recently because it contains clauses about how officers can be disciplined.
The recent suspension, and subsequent reinstatement of Officer Christopher Humphreys has ignited curiosity further, and Copwatch activist Dan Handelman has been asking the city for weeks if he could get access to the meetings. He finally heard back today.
"They told me that state law provides for contract negotiations to be open unless both parties agree to close them," says Handelman. "And I think this is a great opportunity for us to see how the sausage is being made."
"At this juncture, there are no sessions scheduled, but we will let you know as soon as they're scheduled," says Steve Heron, a negotiator in the city's bureau of human resources who will be leading the negotiations.
Handelman says he is hoping that city council will require union members to participate in investigations by non-police investigators, and somehow make the contract clearer about the ability to fire officers in cases of shootings and deaths in custody. At the moment, the city has tried to fire and suspend officers following controversial incidents, but they have been repeatedly reinstated at arbitration.
"Officer Douglas Erickson shot a black man fleeing from him, in the back, in 1993, and was fired, and then reinstated by arbitration," says Handelman. "Officer Scott McCollister shot and killed Kendra James in 2003 and was suspended without pay for six months, but the arbitrator said he should be reinstated and have his back pay returned. Lieutenant Jeffrey Kaer shot and killed Dennis Young in 2006 and was fired and reinstated by arbirtration. "
"The arbitrators are supposed to be neutral but they keep coming down on the side of the union," says Handelman. "Whatever it is that's making it easy for the arbitrator to side with the officers in these situations is important. We're not against people having collective bargaining agreements, but we are against collective bargaining agreements that affect public policy and allow for human life to be taken away."
We'll have reports from the negotiation table.