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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cops, Police Union Close to Deal on Performance Evaluations

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 at 11:25 AM

Something interesting actually emerged from public bargaining talks between the city of Portland and Portland Police Association, the first such session since fall 2010: The two sides, in some extracurricular bargaining last summer under the watch of former Mayor Sam Adams, came close to reconstituting the bureau's long dormant regimen of performance evaluations.

The two sides seem close to reaching a deal again.

The plan under discussion, in a draft protocol created by the police bureau, would have rated officers on dozens of points like customer service, tactics, integrity, communication, PPA counsel Anil Karia explained at the session. But the reviews could not be used as part of the discipline process or to fire a cop or transfer a cop against his or her will.

Evaluations were prized by Adams and loomed large on his list of wished-for reforms. Karia, in bringing the proposal back up this morning, said the city made a last-ditch push in Adams' final year in office. The city sent a letter in May 2012 and the two sides met in August 2012 before getting "within a whisker" of an agreement, Karia said.

But for whatever reason, that agreement never materialized—despite Karia's contentions that the two sides mostly agreed on its finer points.

That disagreement may stem from some of the details. Evaluations will create a heavier workload for sergeants and lieutenants, the union argued.

I'll post more when I'm allowed. There's a blackout here when they're in session.

Update 12:25 PM: Workload is a factor, the city's labor relations manager, Jerrell Gaddis, said after the meeting. A new protocol requires training and consistency. Supervisors will be required to go through a long checklist of subjects that they must document. They must also meet with employees quarterly in addition to an annual sitdown.

Former Chief Penny Harrington did away with reviews more than 20 years ago in part because of the time involved, leaving the police bureau as the only outlier in city government.

As PPA VP Sergeant Jeff Niiya explained at the meeting, sergeants will have to spend more time out with their detail officers, monitoring them on lower-level calls than they might currently show up for. The idea is to have sergeants be more proactive than they might be now, checking on top-performing cops to ward off slippage. Supervisors will have to show their work, especially because the union is now proposing letting officers have the right to rebut or add to their evaluations (something other city bureaus also allow).

That's extra complicated because supervising sergeants don't always share the same days off as their officers and sometimes have details that cover large tracts of the city.

"We'll have to remove ourselves from some other duties," Niiya said, adding later, "I'm going to need to document actual facts to back up the performance evaluation I just gave."

But the bigger sticking point last summer, Gaddis said, was whether the union would have the right to appeal evaluations on behalf of its members. The union appears to have softened that stance with its proposal for rebuttals, which must come in within a 15 day window.

Beyond discipline cases, the evaluations also wouldn't be able to affect pay in the PPA's proposal but could be used, in the event a "tiebreaker" is needed, in determining promotions. (The city is dubious of that: "No one's performance is ever equal," Gaddis said.)

That's because the reviews, under the city's proposal last year and now under the union's plan, would require supervisors to also sing the praises of employees when warranted and formally document instances when they followed through with improvement plans.

Niiya says the evaluations will be used to "help the younger guys be the officers we want them to be."

Karia says commendations often get lost.

"You tend to pick on [officers] and forget to remind them of all the good qualities they bring to the job," he said. "We want to see the good highlighted also."

But accountability advocates already are raising concerns. Under the union's proposal, and with apparent agreement with the city, if an officer accused of misconduct is ever exonerated of that misconduct, mentions of that case would be expected to drop out of future performance reviews.

Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch worried about a lack of oversight, citing the example of a cop who is accused of the same type of misconduct six times and exonerated in each case.

"Then there's a pattern of complaint," he says.

Handelman also wondered about misconduct allegations that are merely found unproven, meaning there wasn't enough evidence to find for or against the cop.

I asked Karia about that after today's 3.5-hour session. He said that distinction hadn't occurred to him. "I don't know," he told me.

Karia said during the meeting that he assumed performance evaluations remain as much a concern for this council as they did for the last one. The city is seeking the same reviews in talks with its other police union, the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association.

Gail Shibley, chief of staff for Mayor Charlie Hales, was attending the meeting, too. I asked her whether that was the case.

"I'm just observing," she said with a smile.

The talks did dive into other subjects, but nothing of high public interest. Those subjects will wait for private talks at PPA headquarters, no doubt. Compelling testimony immediately after force cases, use of force changes, a discipline matrix, oversight related to the federal probe of the bureau over its handling of the mentally ill—all were unspoken.

Instead? The union suggested streamlining the grievance process and refining how arbitrators for labor disputes are selected. It also wants death leave to apply to grandparents in law and to spell out that domestic partners ought to be treated the same as spouses. It also wants cops who have to take care of police dogs to be paid better when they're on partial vacation or sick and still working with their dogs.

The next public meeting is planned for October 3 at 8:30 AM.

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