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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Target Paying Cops for Security Work—an "Exception" to Bureau Policy

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Nov 14, 2013 at 2:44 PM

In an "exception" to established police rules that frown on retail security work, the Mercury has learned, Portland cops have been collecting hundreds of dollars in overtime checks from downtown's new Galleria Target ever since it opened this summer.

The bureau's contract (pdf) with the department store, obtained through a public records request, was born out of planning for its grand opening festivities in late July. That's a normal arrangement: Businesses or nonprofits routinely pay police hundreds of dollars to help manage crowds, as we reported over the summer.

But unlike most contracts, tied to specific events, Target's arrangement with the city has been allowed to continue well beyond that roll-out period—and could stretch into 2014. As an example of how durable that relationship has become, work at the Target has been made available to officers for 21 of the 30 days on this month's calendar, for $63 an hour. The contract comes after the Mercury's reporting found an Occupy-related Bank of America contract, for some 40 hours a week, was allowed to continue for nearly two years.

That puts the bureau in a difficult position—something that top managers acknowledge. A policy directive enacted in 2009, under former Chief Rosie Sizer, discourages contracts that are "primarily a security function for the sole benefit of the establishment" and are "focused solely on the interests of the business." The change, unpopular at the time, was driven by Sizer's distaste for security work at the downtown Ross Dress 4 Less.

Chief Mike Reese's office, when asked about the contract, signaled a difference in philosophy between the two administrations. Sources say Reese, back when he was Central Precinct commander downtown, had worked closely to shape the Ross contract; it was seen as a way to cut down on call-outs to a shoplifting hotspot. But the 2009 directive, in any case, remains on the books (pdf) and officially in place.

"It is an exception," says Commander Bob Day, currently in charge of Central Precinct. Day not only approved the Target contract, but said he also took the extra step of running it past Assistant Chief Larry O'Dea, Reese's top aide in charge of bureau operations and patrol staffing. Indeed, notations on the contract obtained by the Mercury make clear Day waited to bless the ongoing work until hearing back from the chief's office.

"I'm fully aware that the directive is in place," he also said, saying my questions were "reasonable."

Asked how he squared the Target contract against the Ross directive (first reported years ago by Willamette Week), Day made two points: (1) The Target contract, he says, won't run "indefinitely." It will be re-evaluated at the end of the year, after the holiday rush. (By way of context, the bureau has an annual contract with Lloyd Center for overtime security work.) And (2) the nature of the police work involved is different than what Ross required.

Day says the Ross contract amounted to officers sitting around and busting shoplifters. As he sees it, cops working Target are supposed to get outside the building, patrolling sidewalks and not just the inside of the store. "Here it's more of a community-based approach," letting people get to see officers and managing crowds. That jibes with the language in the contract—although it does require officers to carry Target radios.

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But Day also said something potentially controversial: that the work is also about patrolling for sidewalk violations—aggressive panhandling and obstructions. He said that helps police and the community but that it also "benefits Target to have positive, safe environment."

Tim Kerns, who negotiated the contract for Target, specifically mentioned crowd management when contacted by the Mercury. "That's the tip of the spear of their involvement here," he said.

Secondary employment contracts, as the bureau's policy manual calls them, are a strange thing overall. Though bureau officials must approve all contracts, modify their terms as necessary, and set overall policy, the Portland Police Association is charged with scheduling the officers who work the security jobs.

Daryl Turner, PPA president, called the Target contract "a community policing tool." He explained it as such: When people see officers outside downtown stores, "it makes people feel very comfortable. Therefore, people want to come in the store. They feel safer."

So far, through early November, PPA figures show officers have worked some 7,033 hours on 1,261 different secondary employment jobs.

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