POLICE BRASS have always insisted their contract with downtown's Galleria Target for overtime security work was a special-case "exception" to a strict policy that all but bans cops from taking on retail work—lest they be seen (perhaps unfairly) as stooges serving at the behest of private business.
When asked to explain that distinction last year ["The Best Cops Money Can Buy," News, Nov 20, 2013], Commander Bob Day, boss of downtown's Central Precinct, noted a peculiar condition of the contract that gets officers out of the clean-smelling, climate-controlled store.
Cops would still get $63 an hour—overtime pay—for relatively easy work on a day off, but now they'd also have to perform regular street patrols, at least once an hour.
Day called that a community benefit. In essence, the bureau gets more cops on the streets—albeit the streets around one particularly well-heeled business—without having to stretch its budget any further.
"They're out on the sidewalk," he told me last year. "It's not just sitting at the door arresting shoplifters. That's my expectation."
Day has since renewed Target's security contract, the Mercury has learned—after letting it lapse in January after the busy holiday shopping season. The new version, which started March 18, will last at least through August.
And if this new round of security work and sidewalk work goes well, bureau officials confirm, it might no longer be an exception. It might be the new rule—and another tool against nuisance crimes for a bureau that's been beating a steady drum against the "disorder" associated with visible homelessness.
"The policy is being reviewed to factor those things in. There are different opinions on whether [security contracts] are good or bad or beneficial or not," says Sergeant Pete Simpson, the bureau's lead spokesman.
He directly linked the sidewalk patrols at Target to the bureau's other recent downtown efforts—including new foot patrols that launched last month.
That change could entice other businesses— currently shut out of the security game—to strike up deals similar to Target's. Imagine miniature versions of the city's Clean and Safe District, in which certain downtown businesses pay extra to put cops outside their doors—something businesses in more-troubled parts of town might never be able to afford.
That change would also be cheered by the rank-and-file—for expanding the pool of overtime work available. Right now, the bureau's security work is concentrated on minding traffic at major events like gun shows, festivals, and Blazers and Timbers games.
The 2009 policy against retail work was deeply unpopular. Though billed as a way to buff the bureau's public image, sources say it also was a stealth strike by then-Chief Rosie Sizer against then-Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese. Reese, of course, is now the chief.
Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman was glad to see the initial Target contract had lapsed after the Mercury raised questions about it. He was horrified to hear it might now become institutionalized.
"It's a strange blurring of lines," he says. "That shouldn't be how our public entities are run."