With new contract negotiations between the City of Portland and the Portland police union expected to begin soon, a local coalition of social and racial justice groups hopes to influence what’s included in those contracts.
The last time Portland City Council entered contract negotiations with the Portland Police Association (PPA) was October of 2016, and things got heated:
During the council vote, protesters’ vocal opposition to the agreed-on contract inspired officers to eject dozens of Portlanders from city hall, shoving and pepper-spraying activists in the process. While then-Mayor Charlie Hales lauded the deal for finally scrapping the Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) 48-hour rule—the one that gave cops involved in a shooting two days until they had to speak with internal investigators—community relations were raw thanks to officers’ jarring response to their critics and the smug satisfaction of the PPA.
This time around, police reform advocates plan to push for four key demands to be included in the new contracts: improving Portland’s civilian police oversight system, holding officers accountable for excessive force or displays of bias, requiring comprehensive drug testing for officers, and changing the public complaint process.
“[There is a] long history of incidents of unaccountable and bias-based policing in our community,” said Will Layng of Portland Jobs with Justice, which is member of the coalition, at a Wednesday morning press conference. “That is why we will be speaking out for a community-focused police contract in the upcoming contract negotiations.”
Additional coalition members include Unite Oregon, the Portland chapters of the NAACP and Democratic Socialists of America, Portland Copwatch, the Albina Ministerial Alliance, and others.
The Albina Ministerial Alliance, a leader in Portland’s African American community, was among the groups that in 2010 called for a federal investigation into how Portland police officers treat the city’s Black residents. As a result of that investigation, the Department of Justice found Portland police officers had used unreasonable force when interacting with people experiencing mental illness.
LeRoy Haynes, a co-chair of the alliance’s Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, said “accountability is an issue that we still grapple with in the city of Portland,” at Wednesday’s press conference.
“We will not be able to change the number of police shootings until we change this contract,” Haynes said. “We will not be able to fully change the responsibility of holding officers accountable until we change this contract.”
The coalition’s priorities are further detailed in a resolution they hope to present to Portland City Council before contract negotiations begin, which is expected to happen before the end of the year. Coalition leaders say no city commissioner has yet agreed to introduce the resolution, but that they plan to start meeting with commissioners soon to discuss their demands.
Under the heading of improving civilian oversight, the coalition calls for giving an independent civilian agency authority over cases involving deadly force, and for ensuring that in investigations of allegations of police misconduct, “the officer being investigated should not have special privileges the public does not have.”
The coalition is also asking that the new contract make it easier to fire police officers who have “used excessive force or exhibited racism,” and that members of the public will be able to “make complaints without the offending officer having access to their name and information.”
While the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) currently has the power to drug-test officers when there is “reasonable suspicion” they may be using drugs, there isn’t a policy in place for mandatory officer drug-testing after a police shooting or use of force. Haynes said that policy gap presents a “double standard.”
“Sometimes officers use too much alcohol,” Haynes said. “Sometimes they have other drugs, including steroids, in their systems.... When you are stopped by a police officer for a ticket and they are concerned you may have had a little too much alcohol, you are immediately asked to take a test on the spot.”
When asked if the coalition expected the PPA to push back on its demands, Haynes answered, “Of course there will be resistance.”
“Every inch of reform in this city,” he added, “has been fought against by the Portland Police Association.”
For more on the history and future of PPA contract negotiations, read this week’s Hall Monitor by Alex Zielinski.