SOMETHING INTERESTING actually emerged from the first set of public bargaining talks, the first in almost three years, between the City of Portland and Portland Police Association (PPA).

Last Thursday, August 15, in between snore-inducing talk of doctors' notes, the rigors of kennel care for police dogs, and a slightly streamlined labor-dispute process, the two sides also admitted they were close to a deal on something that snapped every reporter in the room to attention.

Performance evaluations. For cops. For the first time in nearly 30 years, according to PPA attorney Anil Karia.

The proposal would rate officers on dozens of points, among them customer service, tactics, integrity, communication skills, how well they testify in court, report writing, and if they mind their training. The proposal also calls for quarterly reviews that would inform a cop's annual review.

But here's the catch: The reviews could not be used as part of the discipline process. Not when the bureau wants to fire a cop and not when the bureau wants to transfer a cop against his or her will. The reviews also could not be used in the promotion process, either to help or hurt—except, the union has proposed, in the event of a tiebreaker between two candidates.

What's behind the breakthrough? A fair amount of credit goes to the ghost of former Mayor Sam Adams. Adams tried, for most of the nearly three years he served as police commissioner, to bring the common-sense policy back to our city's police bureau. And on his way out, in the summer of 2012, he made one last stab at it—coming "within a whisker" of a deal, Karia said, before faltering.

Only two sticking points stood in the way: whether cops could formally appeal botched evaluations and whether supervisors would have the time to conduct the obsessively detailed review the city is pushing.

Fast forward another year. With Mayor Charlie Hales just as steadfast as his predecessor, ground is shifting.

Workload issues remain a concern and could cost the city—the PPA made sure to press the point by trotting out two sergeants who warned they'd have less time for their current duties. But the PPA has softened its stance on appeals, now proposing just a 15-day window for rebuttals.

Whether the reviews might have teeth was never a sore spot. Adams was keen to declare victory on something he'd pushed for years, and insisting on teeth would have made the whole idea a nonstarter. The city has had to content itself with what could be multiple chances a year to let cops know they've been mucking things up.

The PPA, meanwhile, loves that supervisors would have to go out of their way to say nice things about cops. Another sweetener meant to cinch a deal.

"You tend to pick on [officers] and forget to remind them of all the good qualities they bring to the job," Karia told the city negotiators at last week's meeting. "We want to see the good highlighted also."