Council watchers and others will remember that Portland's new Police Review Board—a five-member semi-civilian oversight panel that weighs in on discipline cases—was supposed to have started up in September 2010. It was among the centerpieces of a tightened oversight regimen pushed by Commissioner Randy Leonard last year.
But when Independent Police Review Director Mary-Beth Baptista spoke to the Portland City Council this morning, presenting her office's annual report, she confirmed that the panel didn't start its work until some time in December. Because, she said, there were some "issues."
Whether or not the panel was meeting (its proceedings are closed to the public), and why not, was a subject of whispers in city hall last fall. Baptista didn't go into detail on those issues in her testimony, instead discussing the nuts and bolts of her report (for another take, see Portland Copwatch's detailed analysis or this post I wrote after last week's Citizen Review Committee meeting).
After the meeting, though, she told me what the holdup was—after I guessed correctly, based on the emails and other documents I had obtained on the city's recent round of contract talks with the Portland Police Association. The union had filed a grievance over the new board, and it didn't withdraw its protest until the city offered a sufficiently sweet enough contract offer.
"We didn't want to run the risk of redoing things" if the city somehow lost or caved on the challenge, Baptista said. But she also said the city would've pushed the issue—and began plowing through the backlog of cases that had piled up since September—if the challenge had dragged on much further.
"We weren't going to wait much longer," she added. Thanks to a convincing city cash commitment, her office didn't have to wait at all.