Portland City Council Adopts Police Union Contract over Strong Community Objections; Arrests Demonstrators

By Ashlee Albies & Kristen Chambers, NLG-PDX

Portland, OR police accountability advocates have worked for years to change terms embedded in the City’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the police union, arguing they impede oversight and accountability. On October 12, 2016, the Portland City Council adopted a CBA over strenuous community objections, surrounded City Hall with riot cops, and arrested 10 objectors.

In 2010, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into the Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) use-of-force practices at the request of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform (AMAC), a local organization. The DOJ found a pattern of excessive force by the PPB against people experiencing mental health crises, and filed suit alleging the same. The day the suit was filed, the DOJ and the City jointly filed a proposed Settlement Agreement, purporting to resolve those legal claims. The AMAC, represented by Portland NLG members Ashlee Albies and Shauna Curphey (and now Kristen Chambers) filed a motion to intervene and were granted “enhanced amicus status,” allowing participation in the case.

Several terms of the Agreement pertain to the City’s independent police oversight authority (IPR) and community engagement. In particular, the Agreement calls for the elimination of the 48-hour rule, which allows officers involved in deadly force cases 48 hours before submitting to an interview. The Agreement also requires the City to rework its “byzantine” accountability system to be more efficient and effective.

The AMAC, NLG, NAACP, ACLU, Portland Copwatch, Don’t Shoot PDX and other community groups opposed the City Council’s approval of a CBA, bargained for mid-contract by Mayor Charlie Hales, with an estimated $6.8 million price tag. The changes removed the 48-hour rule, but failed to address aspects of the CBA prohibiting the IPR from conducting investigations into deadly force cases and compelling officer testimony.  Moreover, the proposal included a concession that the City was required to bargain with the PPA over body-cams policies. The NLG previously provided a legal opinion to the City, pointing out that aspects of the body cam policy—specifically whether officers should be able to review footage before writing reports or submitting to investigatory interviews—was more likely subject to permissive rather than mandatory bargaining under state law, and that the proposed changes failed to address requirements of the Agreement. Mayor Hales acknowledged he did not raise issues related to IPR during bargaining.

The day before the second reading of the ordinance to adopt the CBA, Don’t Shoot PDX demonstrators camped out at City Hall, blanketing the building with a “Black Lives Matter” banner. Mayor Hales banned the general public from giving testimony or attending the hearing, allowing only journalists and people who had previously signed up to testify to enter.

The morning of the council hearing to vote on the new CBA, objectors filled council chambers. Mayor Hales moved up the time to consider the CBA on the agenda, recessed council after demonstrators made noise, and reconvened council on the floor above at City Hall, where he had arranged for a live feed of the council meeting, now taking place behind closed doors.  Police officers stationed themselves in City Hall, blocking protesters from the small room where council reconvened to approve the CBA. Shortly after adopting the CBA, police forced demonstrators out of City Hall, pushing, pepper-spraying and using batons. Ten demonstrators were arrested, and NLG Legal Observer Sara Phillips—who has been providing a heroic amount of legal support—was thrown down the stairs by an officer.
The Portland NLG and Lewis and Clark Law School NLG chapters continue to provide legal support to demonstrators and those arrestees. ■

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Ashlee Albies’ interview with Jo Ann Hardesty  about this topic on KBOO Community Radio: kboo.fm/media/8616-special-police-brutality-ashlee-albies

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