The most significant issue this week is the approval of the Union Contract between the Portland Police Association (PPA) and the City. A summary of Frequently Asked Questions, with the Mayor's responses, is posted here.
I gave a long speech while voting, because reforms in the contract leading to safety for all community members is a hugely important issue.
Short summary: Police staffing has fallen to unacceptable levels, due to retirements, not enough recruits, and 12 terminations/resignations in lieu of termination, over the past three years.
Officers are working huge amounts of overtime, and those in specialty units such as domestic violence investigators are being pulled to regular patrol shifts to cover 911 dispatches. Tired workers are more likely to make poor decisions. The contract ratified this week provides incentives for new recruits, and for retirees to augment staffing by allowing the Chief to re-hire valued retired officers to assist with shift coverage. The need to provide incentives to boost applications to join the Bureau and/or delay retirements is real, and urgent.
Many testifiers at the two public hearings where dozens of Portlanders spoke, asked me to delay action on the PPA contract until after Mayor Wheeler assumes control of the Police Bureau. Two factors influenced my decision to ratify the contract now. First, Mayor-elect Wheeler has followed the discussions, and didn't ask me to delay ratification. And second, staffing in the Police Bureau needs emergency actions now, not waiting for 2017.
It takes at least six months to conduct background checks on applicants wishing to join the Portland Police Bureau. The background investigators check the 8 references given by the applicant, and ask each reference to provide two or three additional references. The secondary references are then asked to give two or three more. By doing this, hiring panels have much more information than just relying on the references given by the applicant. After initial hiring, recruits are trained for 18 months before being cleared to work independently.
Many Portlanders requested the Council to delay action on the contract until Mayor Wheeler takes office. If we wait another six months to provide recruitment incentives, staffing levels would fall to unsafe levels - unsafe for officers, and unsafe for the communities they serve.
In return for investments in recruitment incentives and higher pay for all officers (which will likely increase lateral transfers of experienced officers from nearby jurisdictions), the Council achieved a victory that has been demanded by community advocates for many years - deletion of the "48-hour rule". Previous contracts with PPA have included a restriction than officers are not required to be questioned on use of deadly force incidents until 48 hours after the event. Community activists have railed against that clause repeatedly, in my time on the Council since 2009. This week's vote deletes that restriction from the PPA Union Contract. By accepting the contract, the Union also accepted the Discipline Guide, which sets clear standards for action when officers don't follow bureau policies.
I voted to approve the Contract largely because of those two clauses - recruitment incentives, and deletion of the 48-hour rule. More details on my thinking are in the very-long statement I read at the vote. This issue was very difficult for me, to choose the right action considering all the information I received from many Portlanders. I understand why some Portlanders disagree with my decision. I pledge to continue working towards a Portland where all residents and City staff are safe, and where all Portlanders value community conversations intended to create mutual respect and understanding - even when we disagree on decisions regarding the pathways needed to reach the goal.