MAYOR CHARLIE HALES has sometimes found victories hard to come by during his four years at the helm.
Time and again, high-profile policy proposals—a “street fee,” a raise on business taxes, a new stance on homeless camping, a demolition tax—have been beaten back by his colleagues’ concerns, the public’s ire, or both.
This was almost certainly on Hales’ mind Tuesday, as sunshine poured through his office windows and he took me through what looks to be one of the signature victories of his administration.
After six months of thumping—and as the clock runs down on his time in City Hall—Hales is about to vanquish a much-despised police perk and make the deflated Portland Police Bureau more attractive to potential recruits.
“This one I wanted to bring home,” Hales said.
The mayor now has city council support for a police union contract that could eliminate the “48-hour rule,” which gives cops two days after shooting someone before answering internal affairs investigators’ questions. The agreement would also bolster pay by 9 percent over three years for most police bureau members, a raise that would add up to $6.8 million in extra police spending every year by 2019.
As a result, Portland cops would be the highest paid in the state, though not the highest paid among comparable cities , Hales’ office says.
The tentative agreement, which the city’s human resources bureau has been hashing out with the Portland Police Association for months, was signed by city and union officials Monday night. Hales personally pitched it to the union weeks earlier, he said.
If it’s ratified by the PPA and approved by city council, Hales says the agreement will be transformational for a bureau that has hemorrhaged officers and struggled to attract new recruits. Staffing has reached such piteous levels, Chief Mike Marshman argues, that he is forced to slash specialty units for things like gang and traffic crimes just to staff basic patrol shifts.
Aside from the pay increase and 48-hour-rule deletion, the agreement would increase starting officer pay by around $11,000, and erase 11 union grievances. It’ll provide for student loan reimbursement for cops, and create a program of “community service officers” who reply to low-level calls.
The agreement was first reported by the Oregonian.
The apparent willingness to consider the deal on council’s part is striking. In part, it's a function of Hales, Marshman, and Human Resources Director Anna Kanwit haunting commissioners' offices to impress the importance of a deal.
Still, while the agreement provides for a lower salary raise than past proposals, city commissioners have repeatedly balked at a raise for cops, citing the fact that no new money had been identified to pay for the raises. That hasn’t changed.
Meanwhile, the council has built a $3.5 million hole into next year’s budget from commitments to pay for homeless services, and Commissioner Amanda Fritz is pushing a new campaign financing system that would cost around $1.2 million a year. With the new police union agreement, the city would tack on nearly $7 million in additional expenses in coming years.
I asked Hales how he reckoned we’d pay for it all.
“Look around. There’s a crane!” he said, glancing dramatically out the window. His point: Hales believes tax revenues are going to keep growing in Portland, and cops should reap some of the benefit.
“If I thought the city was headed for tough times,” he said, “I would not be as fervent about this.”
And with council’s sudden agreement, Hales, it appears, has his win.