Rent-a-Cops Talk Shop 

Oversight Negotiations Get Serious

Backroom negotiations between homeless advocates and the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) on improved oversight for its controversial rent-a-cop firm, Portland Patrol, Inc. (PPI), appear to be moving toward a compromise.

Street Roots, Sisters of the Road, and the Western Regional Advocacy Project suggested five changes for the rent-a-cops last October: a straightforward, unbiased complaints and grievance process via the City of Portland; public openness about training and standard operating procedures; uniforms for PPI officers that clearly differentiate them from the cops; removal of PPI officers' guns; and lastly, revisiting PPI's ability to issue parks exclusions.

Now it seems the first two recommendations are likely to be enacted and the last three aren't, thanks largely to reluctance on the part of city commissioners. (The city council needs to sign off on the plan.)

PPI officers currently dress like cops, and a majority carry guns. They also have issued 2,274 exclusions from the city's parks in the last year.

In October the advocates met for a private lunch at Rocco's Pizza on W Burnside with PBA Vice President of Downtown Services Mike Kuykendall and its Clean and Safe Director Bill Sinnott, to talk about the recommendations.

The advocates are due to meet again, privately, with PPI boss John Hren on Thursday, January 10, to talk about officer training, but they haven't scheduled another meeting with the PBA to formalize a new oversight procedure.

Street Roots Director Israel Bayer says only the first two recommendations were discussed at the October meeting because both sides were getting a sense from city commissioners that the last three were off the table.

"We're not saying we're going to trade oversight and access to training for guns, uniforms, and parks exclusions," Bayer says. "Just that that's what we're hearing from city hall."

Bayer's sense of partial city hall support for the recommendations was explicitly confirmed last week when the Mercury asked all four commissioners where they stood. All four commissioners' offices said they were open to oversight and training discussions but that uniforms, guns, and park exclusions were either off the table or a far tougher sell.

"We're working with Israel on the oversight and training process," says PBA spokeswoman Megan Doern.

"But the parks contract has five years to run," Doern continues. "And the uniforms and guns have been effective in promoting a sense of safety and security downtown."

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