Illustration by Jeff Sheridan

POLICE RULES are very clear when it comes to the kinds of security jobs Portland cops can perform for private groups—in uniform, for expensive overtime pay—when they'd otherwise be off-duty.

A directive issued in 2009, under then-Chief Rosie Sizer, discourages contracts that are "primarily a security function for the sole benefit of the establishment" and are "focused solely on the interests of the business." The change, unpopular at the time, was driven by Sizer's distaste for anti-shoplifting work at the downtown Ross Dress for Less.

But despite those rules—and with the full blessing of Chief Mike Reese's top staffers, the Mercury has learned—Portland cops have been collecting big checks paid by downtown's cheery Galleria Target ever since it opened this summer.

The contract was signed just before the Mercury reported that the bureau had allowed an Occupy Portland-related contract with a Bank of America branch to continue for nearly two years—well after protests had died down ["The Legal Way to Buy a Cop," News, July 31].

"It is an exception," says Commander Bob Day, the boss of the bureau's central precinct and the cop who signed the Target contract—with approval from Assistant Chief Larry O'Dea. "I'm fully aware that the directive is in place."

But Day's justification for the contract might be even more controversial than the work itself. Moreover, it may not hold up to scrutiny.

Police officials apparently see the contract—in which a private business pays uniformed officers to cater to its needs—as an example of "community policing."

What's that really mean? The Target contract has emerged as another potential weapon in what's been a months-long push against panhandlers and others accused of blocking the sidewalks and bothering tourists and shoppers. Cops, business lobbyists, and officials like Mayor Charlie Hales have all cited reported assaults and "lawlessness" as part of a fight to revive harsher "sit-lie" sidewalk rules.

"A lot of thought went into [the contract]," says bureau spokesman Pete Simpson, also talking about a "philosophical" difference between Sizer and Reese. "The tipping point was the sidewalk issues. It tilted it toward being a public benefit."

Day, who runs point on downtown sidewalk issues for Reese, further explained his vision for the Target contract. "They're out on the sidewalk," he says of the officers doing the work. "It's not just sitting at the door arresting shoplifters. That's my expectation. They're out on the sidewalk walking around."

That roughly jibes with a public copy of the Target contract, obtained in a records request. It says cops are supposed to patrol the store and its "property" and let private guards take the lead when collaring suspected thieves.

But there's also some evidence, the Mercury has learned, that bureau officials might be overstating the role sidewalk policing plays in the contract.

The actual set of marching orders cops receive when signing up for eight-hour Target shifts, obtained by the Mercury, spends little time exhorting officers to get outside the store. In fact, it requires only "one outside perimeter patrol per hour." That language is not in the public contract.

Crime statistics and neighborhood observations also call into question concerns about the particular urgency of sidewalk issues around the Target, which shares the block bound by SW 10th, 9th, Morrison, and Alder with other retailers. A review of data for the area shows some hits for crimes like assault and disorderly conduct, but less than in nearby blocks.

"I've never seen a cop out front," says one area regular.

A homeless couple enduring a recent rainy afternoon with their dogs outside the store's SW 10th and Morrison entrance—the only people asking for money on the whole block—said they're often rousted by officers downtown, but usually closer to SW 3rd. Another homeless man, Benjamin Bagnall, said panhandlers generally avoid crowding that entrance and don't fill the block.

"I never seen any congestion on the sidewalks," Bagnall says.

Day argues that just knowing an officer is nearby—seeing the car parked in the loading dock, for example—"can be a deterrent as well as create a sense of safety and security."

Target initially approached the bureau to help deal with crowds around its late July grand opening. That's a normal arrangement: Businesses or nonprofits routinely pay police hundreds of dollars to help manage large groups of people, typically for specific events that last, at most, for just a few days.

But Target also made clear it hoped for a more enduring relationship—akin to what a regional manager says the chain enjoys in other cities, including Seattle.

In November alone, according to information obtained by the Mercury, cops have been offered shifts on 21 different days—including every day during the busy shopping week around Thanksgiving. And it's not hard to see why officers would readily sign up—or why Reese's team found a way to let them do it. At $63 an hour, what a senior cop would be paid to work overtime, just one eight-hour shift amounts to an extra $500 in gross pay.

Reese, sources say, was a big fan of the old Ross Dress for Less contract, back when he was the commander of central precinct. Jockeying between Sizer and Reese, those sources say, may also have helped spur Sizer's decision to cancel that work.

"Secondary employment" contracts, as the bureau's policy manual calls them, are a strange thing overall.

Though bureau officials approve them, and set overall policy, the Portland Police Association—the city's rank-and-file police union—is charged with scheduling the officers who work the security jobs. So far, through early November, PPA figures show officers have worked some 7,033 hours on 1,261 different secondary employment jobs.

Day and Simpson both said the Target contract would be re-evaluated early next year—after, it should be noted, the holiday rush. Day also says he's gone out to monitor the work "a few times" and that "everyone seems pleased."

Except, maybe, police accountability advocates—who already have grave reservations about letting businesses pay for cops.

"I don't understand how assaults somewhere else downtown translates into helping this private corporation," says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. "It sounds like quite a stretch."