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Portland city officials stood with the police union president and the state’s top prosecutor Wednesday to announce that the city and police union had reached a tentative agreement on reforms to address last year’s scathing federal investigation.
The police union waived its right to challenge proposed changes to the Police Bureau’s use of force and Taser policies — although it’s unclear what final changes the city agreed to make.
But the union retained the right to challenge any reforms that would require officers to give on-scene interviews to detectives after an officer-involved shooting or allow investigators with the city’s Independent Review Division to directly question officers.
*This is the working version used throughout mediation. We have no knowledge yet of any new or updated document that may have been produced as a result of today’s agreement. –Eds.
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The agreement still must be approved by members of the rank-and-file Portland Police Association and the City Council. Some of the reforms also have been part of recent contract negotiations between the city and police union, which is also nearing a final contract deal.
“This is a day that some people might have wondered would ever occur,” said Mayor Charlie Hales, who serves as police commissioner. “We could have failed … but we are here.”
“I’m very proud we are going to move forward together on a settlement on these very critical issues,” Hales said.
Oregon’s U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said a federal judge will now schedule a fairness hearing to seek input on the package of reforms so they can be adopted in federal court.
The tentative agreement between the city and police union, Marshall said, removes the “one barrier to our final goal” of getting a federal judge to sign off on the police reform package.
“This is a fantastic day for the city of Portland,” Marshall said.
The issue arose after the U.S. Department of Justice found last year that Portland police engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force against people suffering from or perceived to have a mental illness. The findings followed a nearly 15-month federal investigation.
Last November, the City Council approved an initial settlement agreement that called for widespread changes to police policies on use of force, Tasers, training, supervision and oversight. It also called for restructuring police crisis intervention training and quicker internal inquiries into alleged police misconduct.
The police union objected to the settlement, arguing that changes to the use of force policy, disciplinary procedures and working conditions needed to be the subject of mandatory bargaining.
Officer Daryl Turner, Portland Police Association president, said Wednesday that the union’s desire was to preserve and protect the bargaining rights of its members. As part of the tentative agreement, it withdrew its pending grievance against the settlement.
“The mediation process has worked,” Turner said.
After the brief news conference, Deputy City Attorney Dave Woboril said there won’t be substantial changes to the chief’s rewritten use of force and Taser policies.
Yet Turner signaled that the chief’s final draft will include more than just tweaks.
“The only changes in the force policy are the constitutional changes made since the last force policy was implemented,” Turner said. He declined to say what they include, saying they haven’t been presented to his union members yet. The union has scheduled meetings on Nov. 9, 14, 15 and 16 with its members to ratify a new contract.
City officials have said in the past that one of the main points in dispute came down to the standard for analyzing police use of force. The Police Bureau and city have disagreed with the union’s stance, which would preclude hindsight analysis of an officer’s use of force and restrict a review into whether the actions were reasonable from the officer’s perspective at the time of the incident.
It’s unclear how that has been resolved.
“Wow, we are pleased to be standing here today,” Police Chief Mike Reese said. “There is still work to be done.”
He said the agreement will provide a “road map to guide us forward.”
But Pastor T. Allen Bethel, chairman of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, said afterward: “We’re not totally satisfied.”
“We want to see IPR (the Independent Police Review Division) become truly independent and be represented by independent counsel, not tied to the city attorney’s office,” Bethel said. He challenged the police chief’s recent statement to the City Council that the police oversight system in place now is working well.
“It is not working well, and it does need to be strengthened and truly independent,” Bethel said.
City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade, who sent out a stinging memo to the council and mayor last week questioning their commitment to police accountability, stood with other city officials at the press conference, but wasn’t asked to speak.
Griffin-Valade said later that she still hopes to push forward the reforms her office has proposed to strengthen the review division, which she oversees.
Hales, who was criticized last week for not moving more quickly on the auditor’s proposals, said he has talked with Griffin-Valade about the memo.
“Those reforms are going to move forward,” he said. “As mayor I don’t condone show hearings. I conduct real hearings. We don’t make up our minds before the hearings. We’re going to craft our policy in the light of day and actually debate.”
The mayor said the union has agreed to the adoption of a matrix to guide the Police Bureau on what discipline to mete out for officer misconduct and changes to the use of force and Taser policies. But he said there’s been no agreement on an effort to seek voluntary statements from officers involved in a shooting in less than the 48-hour window now granted them and an Independent Police Review Division proposal to allow its investigators the right to compel officer testimony. Both would likely require mandatory bargaining, and were not included in the union’s next contract.
Wednesday’s announcement came a week before a federal judge had asked all sides to submit legal briefs for what had been shaping up to be a prospective trial next year on whether Portland police had used excessive force against people with mental illness.
The new agreement should forestall a protracted court proceeding and allow the reforms to proceed.
Here are some answers to questions you may have on the pending U.S. Department of Justice settlement with the city of Portland on reforms to the Portland Police Bureau:
Why are the reforms necessary?
The U.S. Department of Justice last fall completed a nearly 15-month investigation that found Portland officers used excessive force on people with mental illness. It also found police engaged in unjustified use of Tasers against people with mental illness. Federal officials called for a package of reforms to police policies, training and oversight.
What happened next?
The city and federal officials proposed widespread changes that the City Council adopted on Nov. 14, 2012. They called for new policies on use of force, Tasers, training, supervision and oversight. They also demanded restructured police crisis intervention training and quicker internal affairs inquiries into alleged police misconduct.
Why did the Portland Police Association object?
When the settlement agreement went before U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon for review and approval, the police union argued that many of the reforms should be part of mandatory bargaining because they affected disciplinary procedures and officer working conditions.
When the union objected, what did the federal judge recommend?
The federal judge appointed a mediator to help the city and police union work out their differences.
Have any of the proposed reforms been implemented?
Yes. The Police Bureau started to do training on revised use of force and Taser policies, but those trainings were halted early this year when the union filed a grievance with the city, contesting them. They’ve remained on hold since then.
But these changes were put in place:
The bureau created a new Behavioral Health Unit, expanded to five the number of officers paired with mental health specialists and created an Enhanced Crisis Intervention Team of about 50 officers who receive extra training to go out on calls involving people suffering mental health crises.
The bureau also, at the Justice Department’s recommendation, now sends sergeants to the scene when officers use force so the sergeants can be involved in the initial investigation.
The bureau also has assigned an inspector to analyze all police use of force.
What happened Wednesday?
Mayor Charlie Hales and the Portland Police Association announced they had reached a tentative agreement to work out their differences, but they offered few details.
It’s unclear what concessions the city may have made as part of this year’s contract talks with the police union to achieve the deal. The union has scheduled meetings with its members on Nov. 9, 14, 15 and 16 to ratify the new contract.
The union waived its right to challenge the bulk of the federal settlement agreement, yet the union retained its right to challenge two main areas: provisions that would require officers involved in a shooting to be interviewed at the scene by detectives; and, any broadening of the city Independent Police Review Division’s powers to allow its investigators to directly question officers in its investigations.
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon will schedule a fairness hearing to seek public input on the settlement agreement and the reforms. U.S. Justice officials and the city are hoping the judge ultimately will sign the agreement as an order of the court.