JUST HOW PUGNACIOUS is the Portland Police Association (PPA)—the union that represents about 1,000 rank-and-file cops and other police employees? An exclusive Mercury review of nearly 10 years of labor contract complaints filed by the PPA, better known as "grievances," turns up an interesting surprise.
Despite being cast as an organization consumed with fighting police bureau discipline—a reputation burnished by the fact that the PPA has yet to lose when contesting suspensions and terminations for the use of deadly force—the PPA is far more likely to battle over monetary and policy issues like overtime pay, drug testing, and health insurance.
In fact, of nearly 200 grievances listed in a city database obtained through a public records request, only 67—about a third—involved discipline cases. There are few repeat names, and, in most of those discipline grievances, the union either struck a deal with the city (meaning neither side actually prevailed) or withdrew the grievance altogether. (A PPA member has 20 days after receiving a discipline letter to file a grievance; the union's executive board makes the final call on supporting grievances.)
Even when officers are fired, the union is more likely to agree with the city. The database lists grievances for 11 cops who lost their jobs, and the PPA wound up siding with the city in all but three.
The number of cops disciplined by the city is much larger than the number who decide to challenge it. For example, from 2006 through 2010, according to the city's Independent Police Review division, the bureau either fired, suspended, or wrote up 99 officers.
"Every officer who gets disciplined doesn't file a grievance," explains Daryl Turner, the PPA's president since summer 2010 and board member since 1999.
"I've seen several cases go by," adds Turner, who repeatedly declined to discuss specific grievances, citing privacy, "where the board agreed with the fact that an officer did something worthy of their firing."
But Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, when asked to review the database on behalf of the Mercury, noted at least one caveat: "Unfortunately," says Handelman, that unwillingness to fight doesn't extend to "any of the ones who have committed excessive force" on duty.
The database doesn't say whether a discipline grievance is related to use of force. But media reports and Copwatch records show that the union usually tends to agree or settle with the city only over dismissals that involve lying, substance abuse, on-duty sex, and domestic violence.
In force cases, the records show the union is pursuing arbitration—an expensive and time-consuming process—in hopes of challenging suspensions for two officers involved in the beating death of James Chasse Jr.: Kyle Nice and Christopher Humphreys. It's also still trying to fight for the reinstatement of Ron Frashour, the officer who shot Aaron Campbell in 2010. And, previously, it won back pay for Scott McCollister, the officer suspended for shooting Kendra James.
Among other findings:
• In 16 discipline cases, the union decided not to follow through on a grievance at all. One of those cases involved former PPA President Scott Westerman, who was fired last fall for lying about twin road-rage incidents in 2010. Westerman filed a grievance, but the union decided not to take it up—leaving Westerman without a job.
• The PPA filed its highest number of discipline grievances in 2002: 17. The union decided to fight a slew of suspensions and reprimands related to a sexual harassment and hazing scandal involving the city's team of tactical officers. Details about those complaints didn't emerge until after the Campbell shooting, because the scandal involved one of the officers suspended over Campbell's death, Sergeant Liani Reyna.
• Eleven discipline cases remain listed as "open," including the Humphreys and Nice suspensions, dating to fall 2009. But in a weird twist, a grievance involving Reyna, suspended for 80 hours over the Campbell shooting, is listed as "closed" and "settled." That's strange, because an arbitrator is scheduled to hear Reyna's grievance, alongside two other Campbell cops: Officer Ryan Lewton and Sergeant John Birkinbine. Both Lewton and Birkinbine's cases are listed as open.
• The PPA also is still grieving pension issues, changes to the city's now-nearly-year-old 911 dispatch system, paycheck deductions made by the city's payroll program, and fitness-testing and drug-testing provisions added to its latest contract.
A year-by-year look at the database also shows that Turner, despite asking his members to raise dues to help fund protracted labor fights, hasn't been much more litigious, on average, than his immediate predecessors. Turner has presided over 35 grievances, seeking arbitration on just 14 so far. The city's human resources director, Yvonne Deckard, had previously singled him out ["PPA Pays to Keep Playing," Hall Monitor, March 15].
"I'm not going to compare myself," Turner says. "But the numbers don't lie."