Portland City Council unanimously approved a four-year contract with the Portland police union Thursday, ending a tumultuous two-year process that saw negotiations put on pause due to the pandemic and public opinion shift dramatically after widespread racial justice protests against police violence.
“What a long road we have traveled to get to today,” Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said before casting her vote. “I want to first start off by thanking the tens of thousands of people who took to the street during 2020 to demand a more just, a more fair, a more accountable police bureau.”
The city and union both notched victories in the new contract, which became public earlier this month. The union secured retention bonuses, recruitment incentives and pay hikes for its members while the city secured terms to expand Portland Street Response, clarified the terms for officers’ outside employment and reached agreement on a discipline guide that will be enshrined in the contract.
“We achieved community oversight through the ballot and included transition language to the new board in the contract,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said at Thursday’s City Council vote. “We achieved greater transparency by including new language in the embarrassment clause that gives council more flexibility in commenting on a matter while an investigation is ongoing.”
The embarrassment clause is a portion of the union contract that requires an officer to be reprimanded “in a manner that is least likely to embarrass the officer before other officers or the public.”
Wheeler said the discipline guide will allow for greater accountability and transparency, as well as stricter discipline for certain kinds of misconduct including racism and out of policy use of force.
In a previous City Council meeting to discuss the contract, Dan Handelman, director of the police watchdog group Portland Copwatch, said the discipline guide did not go far enough to hold officers accountable for racism and bias behavior, saying the guide requires aggravating circumstances before an officer can be fired.
The new contract didn’t address everything the two sides had hoped to include. Steven Schuback, the labor attorney the city hired to lead bargaining, said the city hopes to improve language around overtime and to curtail the union’s role in secondary employment, such as private security jobs.
“Given the priorities we had on accountability and Portland Street Response, we focused on those two things and felt like we got some really good changes on that,” Deputy City Attorney Heidi Brown said during a question and answer session after the two sides reached agreement.
The two sides also failed to reach mutual terms on body camera policies. City Council voted earlier this month to allow Portland to start buying body cameras but the policies that would dictate their use have yet to be hammered out. The police union is insisting on pre-review, a policy that would allow officers to view their footage before writing a use of force report. The city, civil rights leaders and the U.S. Department of Justice have all said that is unacceptable, and instead prefer a policy requiring officers to write their reports first then, if necessary, produce addendum reports after viewing body camera footage.
“While there is much in this agreement to celebrate, I also concede that this contract is not perfect,” Commissioner Mingus Mapps said Thursday, adding every party to the agreement is disappointed about something.
“I want to take a moment to encourage the city and the labor union to get back to the bargaining table and resolve lingering questions surrounding body cameras,” Mapps said.
The police association ratified the contract with overwhelming support last week. Thursday’s City Council vote was the final hurdle and the contract took effect immediately upon passage.