Illustration by Ryan Alexander-Tanner

IT MADE FOR an amusing dance last week—the latest volley of warning shots preceding this spring's contract talks between the cash-strapped Portland Police Bureau and its largest union, the 1,000-strong Portland Police Association (PPA).

First, PPA boss Daryl Turner issued a frothy statement rapping Police Chief Mike Reese for failing to hug it out with the union over federally mandated changes to the bureau's policies on Tasers and overall use of force. (To dig the knife in deeper, Turner also made sure to hail a ruling that allowed the PPA to weigh in on a federal lawsuit accusing our cops of beating up on the mentally ill.)

"Please be clear that the PPA has not been a party to nor have we agreed to these 'final drafts' [of Taser and force policies] that the PPB has issued!" Turner typed. "The PPA's input regarding these policies has been continuously ignored by the [police bureau], and Chief Reese's assertion that the policies are a collaborative effort is incorrect."

The changes would force cops to better articulate why they got physical in the first place—and make it so Tasering someone more than twice in a row without a damned compelling reason is no longer okay. Turner—worried that using constitutional levels of force will get cops hurt or lead to (gasp!) discipline that sticks—went on to call the new policies "fundamentally flawed."

A few hours later, Reese answered Turner's foot-stamping salvo with a calmer, cooler riposte of his own.

In a statement, Reese promised to start training on the new policies within weeks. Never mind that the union is angry. Never mind that the union and the city and the feds are supposed to sit down with a mediator to talk over their differences. And never mind that the PPA firmly believes these changes are so dramatic they ought to also be discussed at the bargaining table.

"I want to thank the PPA and PPCOA [Portland Police Commanding Officers Association], the city attorney's office, city council, and community members for all of the constructive work," Reese wrote, seemingly with a smile.

But Reese's congeniality belies a costly gamble.

After months of back-and-forth with the PPA—with Portland insisting any change in policies is a "management right"—the city finally beseeched the Oregon Employment Relations Board (ERB) to settle things.

If the ERB supports the city, then no big deal. But if the panel, known for favoring labor interests, sides with the union?

Then Portland should prepare to open its wallet.

Because here's the basic math in contract talks: Policy concessions cost big money. (Look no further than the millions the PPA won in its last contract.) And now, with the feds breathing down their necks, the city will have no choice but to pay up.

That's one reason why Portland—pondering painful budget cuts in every bureau—has been so keen not to have this conversation. And that's exactly why the PPA, looking at those same cuts, is so eager.