As the city of Portland approaches the start of negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the Portland Police Association, community advocates and activists Wednesday made requests for more accountability and oversight.
“In the past the contract between the city of Portland and the PPA has made it almost impossible for our community to hold officers accountable when they harm our community,” said Kayse Jama, executive director with Unite Oregon — a group that says it’s focused on building a unified intercultural justice movement in Oregon.
“It’s been a major barrier to civilian oversight of police,” he said.
The Portland Police Association, or PPA, is the union that represents sworn Portland Police Bureau officers. The current contract expires next June.
Jama and others with groups including Portland NAACP, League of Women Voters and Portland Jobs with Justice gathered across from City Hall Wednesday morning to discuss their needs for the new contract.
The most specific changes they call for include improving civilian oversight — they would like to involve an independent civilian agency in reviewing police deadly force cases and to give that agency the power to compel officer testimony and recommend discipline.
Currently, police deadly force cases are investigated by the bureau’s internal Detective Division and Professional Standards Division. Those cases then go to the Police Review Board, which has some civilian members, and which can make disciplinary recommendations.
“Officers should not receive special treatment in oversight investigations,” Jama said.
Advocates are also asking for more accountability following excessive force incidents and bias-based policing. Specifically, they ask that the city be able to fire officers who have exhibited either of those behaviors.
This past February, City Council approved a controversial settlement with a Portland police officer, who received $100,000 and a three-week unpaid suspension in exchange for his forced retirement after he made a racist remark about killing black people.
City commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the settlement because of a guideline in the current police union contract that states that the maximum penalty for an officer who makes racist remarks is three weeks without pay.
Advocates also call for mandatory police drug testing after officers use force on the public and for improving the public complaint process by not allowing officers to access the names or information of people who have filed complaints against them.
Sixteen community groups have signed onto a letter, so far, in support of these recommendations.
As far as the negotiation process itself goes, these community members are asking the city to be more transparent.
“The city must be clear about the intended timeline of negotiations and the intended timeline of setting the city’s bargaining priorities,” Jama said. “To insure that the next contract upholds our community’s vision, the city’s priority for the contract must be set through public process involving the entire council and the community.”
Advocates said they’re in the process of setting up meetings with city commissioners to discuss their requests.