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Friday, February 8, 2013

City Wants to Battle Police Union Over Use of Force Changes

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Feb 8, 2013 at 5:10 PM

Here's something important tucked all hush-hush on the city council's no-discussion "consent agenda."
Mayor Charlie Hales and the city attorney's office want to haul the Portland Police Association in front of the state Employment Relations Board over an impasse in how the cops can implement a new use-of-force policy as part of federal police form.

It's a complicated debate. The city wants to require officers to better articulate why they used force in the first place, whether they reassessed as an encounter progressed if they could have eased off, and whether they accounted for someone maybe suffering from mental illness.

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The PPA, on the other hand, thinks that's unfair and unsafe and is arguing for a strictly in-the-moment standard. A standard that will keep it easy for arbitrators to continue siding against the city in force cases.

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The loggerheads come into play over whether the city is contractually obligated to negotiate that change with the union. The city is planning on bargaining over other federal reforms, like oversight and internal investigations. But it strongly believes that force policies are a management right. The union, meanwhile, is worried it will lead to unsafe working conditions, and argues that working conditions are an issue for contract talks.

Police officials want an answer sooner than later. As in 45 days. They say the US Department of Justice is nearly finished reviewing Chief Mike Reese's proposed changes to force and Taser policies. The bureau also wants to start retraining before renovations at their new training facility in Northeast make that difficult.

I reported back in November, the day the tentative agreement with the feds was up for debate, that this would be an issue.

After the hearing, PPA counsel Anil Karia huddled privately with one of his city counterparts, Stephanie Harper. [Harper prepared the ordinance council will be voting on Wednesday.] City leaders might think all those "the cops shall" phrases are ironclad. The union? Not so much.

Karia told Harper he wanted to work "constructively" but that he still needs breathing room when contract talks resume next year. Already, he's worried that one of the settlement's centerpieces—stricter limits on the use of force and a new rule requiring cops to explain their decision-making—might not be "trainable."

That's a code word for the status quo: cops fired in fatal shootings always getting their jobs back. And if that's what "real change" ends up looking like? No wonder everyone's so freaked out about what we'll get.

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