Two years after first meeting at the bargaining table to hash out a new labor contract, the city of Portland and Portland Police Association (PPA)—the union representing rank-and-file members of the Portland Police Bureau—have reached a tentative contract agreement.
The long-awaited agreement hinges on several accountability and reform measures that have been central to the city's promises of "reimagining policing" following Portland's 2020 racial justice protests.
Representatives from the city and the PPA have both shared their support of the agreed-upon contract, which came together with little fireworks from either side of the bargaining table.
"This is an incredible milestone," said City Commissioner Dan Ryan in a statement. "Culture change takes time, and I am confident this agreement will build trust between community and law enforcement."
City Commissioner Mingus Mapps said that the contract "heralds a new era of partnership between the city and the Portland Police Association."
And PPA President Aaron Schmautz echoed commissioners' sentiments.
“I’m encouraged by the tone of the conversation and the approach from everyone at the table," said Schmautz. "The best solutions come when we work together and find common ground. That’s the way progress is made, and I’m committed to always engaging with greater clarity and focus.”
The contract negotiation meetings hosted by the city were originally open to public viewing, while every other meeting—which was hosted by the PPA—was kept private. Yet, after being unable to reach an agreement within the 150-day timeframe required by state labor law, negotiations moved into closed-door mediation sessions in June 2021. That means it's taken more than six months for both parties to reach an agreement remaining certain policies.
A lot has changed since the city first met with its police union in February 2020 to discuss a new contract. In March 2021, the former president of the PPA, Brian Hunzeker, stepped down for his involvement in spreading false criminal accusations about City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. Hunzeker has since been replaced at the bargaining table by new PPA President Schmautz. Portland has also changed its police leadership since the beginning of negotiations, with PPB Chief Chuck Lovell replacing former chief Jami Resch in June 2020.
Then there's the feds. Since 2012, Portland has been bound to a settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), after a federal investigation found PPB officers to have a "pattern and practice" of using force against people with a mental illness. That agreement has required PPB to make several training and policy adjustments over the past years, including policies that mandate officers record each instance of when they use force against a member of the public.
After nearing completion of the settlement in 2020, the DOJ announced in February 2021 that the city had reversed its progress because of the amount of force its officers used against members of the public (and neglected to properly document) during the 2020 protests. That setback came with a new list of demands from the DOJ that the city had to meet in order to finally leave the confines of the federal settlement. That included an agreement to equip all PPB officers with body-worn cameras, a program that has been on hold in Portland for several years, the creation of a new civilian "dean of training" who would oversee PPB's training programs, and a number of new data collection requirements. Many of these new requests have had to be included in the new PPA contract.
Before entering private mediation in June, the city and PPA had agreed upon 30 of the contract's 68 sections or "articles." Yet many of the most controversial articles and policies had yet to be hammered out, including a recommendation for a new discipline guide for police misconduct, an agreement regarding how PPB works with Portland Street Response (the new program that sends unarmed social workers and medical staff to 911 calls regarding behavioral health issues), an inclusion of a new police oversight commission approved in a November 2020 election, and policy regarding body cameras.
Almost all of these issues have been addressed in the draft agreement released Tuesday.
The contract notably does not include a body camera policy. That means this policy will need to be negotiated over as a standalone issue, not part of the union contract. Both the PPA and the city have disagreed on the terms of a body camera policy, specifically in regards to whether police who use force should have the ability to review their camera's footage before writing a report about the incident or speaking to an investigator—an act referred to as "pre-review." The city believes pre-review mars an officer's ability to truthfully recount the incident, while the PPA believes viewing the footage will allow officers to paint a clearer picture of the event. The DOJ has sided with the city in this debate, and has pledged to intervene if a body camera policy is introduced in Portland that doesn't align with their interests.
This could be considered a win in the city's eyes: Including a body camera policy that the city supports in the contract could have forced the city to give up something else in return to the PPA. And, if for some reason, the city fails to get the PPA to agree to a policy that prohibits pre-review, it appears that the DOJ will use its power through the settlement agreement to have the courts enforce a policy free of pre-review.
Tuesday's proposed contract agreement must be ratified by a Portland City Council vote before becoming final. It also must be approved by PPA membership, who are scheduled to vote on the contract Wednesday. Council will accept public testimony on the contract on February 17, and vote to ratify the contract on February 24. To help answer questions the public may have about this wonky document, city attorneys are hosting a virtual Q&A Thursday, February 10. Members of the public can register for that event here.
The entire 120-page document released Tuesday includes past contract proposals, bargaining notes, and the current draft contract. It's admittedly confusing to navigate, especially for those not familiar with the labor negotiation process.
To help sift through the documents, we've laid out the more notable agreements reached in the contract below:
Police Will Collaborate With Portland Street Response—
Portland Street Response (PSR), the nascent Fire Bureau program that sends unarmed emergency medics and social workers to non-violent 911 calls regarding behavior health and homelessness, has been hampered by not having a formal relationship with PPB. An October 2021 study by Portland State University found that many PPB officers weren't sure what their relationship with PSR was supposed to be. Police policy has also impacted PSR's reach: Past agreements with the PPA prohibit non-sworn police officers from responding to 911 calls regarding suicide and calls that require entering a residence, two situations where PSR wants to offer help. And then there's the overall fear that the expansion of PSR will ultimately get rid of PPB positions, as officers are no longer needed to respond to all calls.
The new contract addresses those concerns with an agreement for PPB officers, PSR staff, Portland Fire officials, and members of the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC, which oversees 911) work together to implement "collaborative public safety response protocols." These protocols should include "the integration of PSR members to the types of calls for service that may be appropriately handled by PSR or handled with the assistance of PSR" and protocols around "actions at the scene of [an] incident" and potential joint responses by PPB and PSR. The contract instructs a committee made up of representatives from the four departments to present a draft policy on these protocols by June 30.
The contract also explicitly notes that the city will not reduce positions held by PPA members in order to expand PSR.
It's no secret that PPB has struggled to recruit and retain officers over the past several years. To combat that, this contract offers $5,000 bonuses to all officers represented by the PPA to kick in a month after this contract is ratified by a City Council vote. Those same officers will also get a $2,000 bonus come January 2024.
"This payment is to address current labor market conditions and retentions," the contract notes.
The PPA also represents Public Safety Support Specialists (PS3s), non-sworn PPB employees who help file reports and take calls. The contract offers PS3s a $3,000 bonus after the contract is rubber-stamped.
New Financial Incentives for Officers—
The contract includes a number of financial incentives for officers who bring a little extra to the table. Specifically, the contract offers employees who are multilingual a $1 per hour raise, and offers a 2 percent raise to all PPA members with a bachelor's degree (come July 2024, that raise will bump to 3 percent). The contract also promises a 5 percent wage increase for any PPA member with a master's degree.
The contract also includes a 2 percent raise for officers who are certified through PPB's Crisis Intervention Training program and a 2 to 4 percent raise for officers who achieve and maintain upper levels of certification through the state's Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) program.
Limitations to Rehire Program—
In November 2021, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced plans to fund a "retire/rehire" program, which does exactly what it says: Reaches out to officers who retired to offer them a job. When this budget plan came before council, Commissioner Hardesty introduced a few tweaks to that policy to ensure the bureau wasn't rehiring problematic officers. Those tweaks have now been included in the union contract.
Specifically, this allows the bureau to rehire officers who resigned between August 1, 2020 and date the contract is ratified, and grants those officers a job for just one year, with the option of additional one-year extension. Also, all officers who apply to the program will be subject to a background check and review of their public social media pages.
Like with the previous retention bonus policy, all rehired officers will be given a $5,000 bonus upon hire.
Embarrassment Clause Remains—
The PPA contract has long included a line instructing that, in cases where the city has reason to reprimand an officer, it is done "in a manner that is least likely to embarrass the officer" in front of their peers or the public. Police accountability advocates have urged this clause to be removed from the contract, as it could be used to unfairly protect officers who committed misconduct to limit public official's free speech. The clause is often pointed to by officials after a member of the public is killed by a police officer, and the public wants officials to condemn the responsible officer.
While the clause remains in this draft of the contract, it is followed by a few new exceptions. Like: "In cases of public concern, the city may provide procedural updates on the status of the investigation and disciplinary process."
The contract currently includes a "bargaining note" following this section, which will likely be removed in the final draft of the contract. That note reads: "Parties recognize that public statement prior to the disposition of an internal investigation provides deference to due process, however parties may make public statements regarding empathy for a situation or concerns for the seriousness of the event."
"Reasonable Suspicion" Drug Testing—
At the moment, there is no requirement for officers to be tested for drug use after they use force or kill a member of the public. The contract released Tuesday now allows PPB to conduct both random and "reasonable suspicion" drug testing, which could allow for tests after a force incident. This change is a result of a request made from community members early in negotiations.
New Discipline Guide—
We got a preview of the city's proposed guide on how to penalize rule-breaking officers during last year's negotiations. The guide included in the draft contract is pretty similar to the city's initial proposal.
Compared to the current discipline guide, created in 2014 and not included in past PPA contracts, this update offers a clearer definition of types of misconduct and more flexibility in which types of discipline officers are stuck with for their actions. The new framework allows management to lessen or worsen punishment on a sliding scale if the violation checks certain boxes. The policy defines those as "mitigating" or "aggravating" circumstances. Mitigating factors includes "accepts responsibility" for the conduct or proof that the office was "motivated by public interest or wellbeing of others." Aggravating factors include being "motivated by personal interest" or "attempt[ing] to cover up conduct."
Officers are also able to reduce certain penalties if they participate in certain educational activities. The contract isn't exactly clear about what those activities could be, but it notes that they could include an individualized plan that "emphasizes education, training, and other creative interventions," mediation, or re-training.
In a June 2021 bargaining session that previewed this guide, the city described this new format as "restorative" for officers.
Agreement to Not Complain About the New Police Oversight Board —
The contract includes what amounts to an agreement to disagree. Some background: In November 2020, Portland voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to overhaul the city's current police oversight system and replace it with a more independent and powerful oversight board made up of community members. The proposed commission promised to hold more power over police disciplinary discussions than the current system, which is called the Independent Police Review (IPR). Days after the measure passed, the PPA filed a grievance against the city to stop it from taking effect, arguing that such decision needed to be agreed upon in contract negotiations with the PPA.
That grievance is still under consideration by the state labor board. While the contract mentions that the city and the PPA "disagree" about the grievance, it doesn't mention anything about having to bargain over the existence of this new oversight group. Instead, it simply mandates that the city gives the PPA a head's up once it's ready to commence the new oversight commission, which is expected to happen within a year or so.
Plus, the contract notes, once the oversight commission is up and running and has replaced IPR, the PPA cannot file any grievances against it for existing.