As the city and its police union enter their fifth month of contract negotiations, the two groups are finally delving into a historically fraught, much-anticipated topic: discipline for Portland Police Bureau (PPB) cops who commit misconduct.
During a Wednesday bargaining session between the city and the Portland Police Association (PPA)—the union representing rank-and-file PPB officers—city attorneys proposed an update to the current discipline guide that PPB management uses when penalizing faulty cops.
The new guide clarifies what actions will prompt immediate termination from PPB, and introduces a new path of rehabilitation for officers who violate PPB policy but don't meet the standards for termination.
"The objective is determining, 'How do we regain trust in the community?'" said Steven Schuback, a private labor attorney hired to lead the city's bargaining team.
The city's current discipline guide for PPB was penned in 2014 to fulfill a settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice over PPB officers' use of force against people with mental illnesses. The guide creates standards for discipline which employees should expect for breaking different PPB policies—ranging from "use of profanity" to "untruthfulness"—depending on the severity of the offense. The guide includes discipline ranging from a stern talking-to by a manager (or, in PPB-terms, "command counseling") to termination. According to the auditor's office,
While PPB relies on this discipline guide for most cases of police misconduct, it has never formally been negotiated into the PPA contract, which means the union still considers it as "advisory" guidelines. Under a state law passed last year, an arbitrator who is reviewing officer discipline contested by a police union cannot recommend discipline that differs from that ordered by the officer's manager, if that initial discipline is consistent with a discipline guide adopted through collective bargaining.
One of the city's main goals for this year's collective bargaining with PPA was to get a discipline guide included in the union's contract.
During the Wednesday bargaining session, held over Zoom, Schuback detailed which types of police misconduct would "cross the line" under the new discipline guide, or required termination. These offenses are also outlined in a city document shared with the PPA, obtained by the Portland Mercury through a records request.
Those "cross the line" offenses include:
-committing a felony
-committing domestic violence
-public corruption for monetary or personal gain
-intentional or reckless misconduct (which results—or could result—in death or serious physical injury)
-using authority as a police officer to target a protected class
Under the current discipline guide, some of these actions would not lead to immediate termination if the offending officer had no prior misconduct on their record, or if they had received past awards or commendations for their work. This new guide would only allow that type of information to impact officer discipline for less severe misconduct.
Instead of detailing each type of lesser misconduct that wouldn't automatically lead to termination, the city's proposed discipline guide groups offenses into three "conceptual levels." These levels are meant to be hammered out between the PPA and city in future negotiating sessions.
Per the city's document, the lowest level includes incidents where an officer "demonstrates a lack of professionalism, [makes a] minor procedural law violation, [inflicts] minor property damage, or [fails] to take some required action." The second level includes incidents that involve "a foreseeable risk to safety of the public of department members, major foreseeable property damage, or unreasonable physical force [or] discriminatory or harassing conduct based on protected class." The most severe level includes misconduct that includes "unethical behavior, discriminatory or harassing conduct based on protected class status that shocks the conscience, intentional violation of civil rights, excessive physical force... biased- based policing, retaliation, [or a] pattern of continued rule violation." The city notes that this third level could still lead to termination, depending on the circumstances. The rest of these offenses could results in a demotion, suspension, a letter of reprimand, or counseling from a manager.
The proposed guide introduces the idea of education-based rehabilitation for police officers who commit misconduct that doesn't end in termination. The suggestion was spearheaded by PPB Deputy Chief Chris Davis, who was inspired by similar programs within law enforcement departments in Tucson, Denver, El Paso, and Los Angeles County.
"The whole idea is to try to avoid some of the damage we’ve seen done to employees in the discipline process," said Davis during the Wednesday session. "The idea is that when someone violates a policy they’re held accountable, but they’re also brought back into the community. It's a more restorative message."
The plan, which Davis characterized as "restorative supervision," would pair traditional required discipline (like a suspension) with an individualized plan that "emphasizes education, training, and other creative interventions to promote a positive outcome and avoid employee embitterment."
Davis said this could include community service, a research project, or some kind of mediation with the community member or group the officer offended against.
Schuback said the system would encourage growth for officers, instead of just "punitive sanctions" for their misconduct.
If agreed upon by PPA, this discipline guide will be the standards followed by the city's new oversight board for police misconduct, which remains in early development stages. The board, which will replace the current Independent Police Review office, is expected to be running within two years.
PPA leadership appeared open to the new discipline guidelines on Wednesday. PPA Executive Director Daryl Turner, a retired PPB officer, raised concerns that the new protocol would create an over-broad definition of "misconduct," by including issues that could be better defined as low-level administrative problems (like improperly filling out a report).
"There are some things that are policy violations that aren’t misconduct, but you’re labeling them as misconduct," Turner said Wednesday. "That falls into a false narrative about police misconduct."
PPA attorney Anil Karia said he looked forward to reviewing the guide and making recommendations at a later session. The city and union will next meet on June 16 in a private meeting hosted by the PPA. The next public session is slated for June 30.