Mayor Charlie Hales’ crusade to get the city’s police a new contract before leaving office just ran into its most serious obstacle yet – blistering criticism from the city’s elected Auditor, Mary Hull Caballero, and Independent Police Review Director Constantin Severe.
Hales wants to give the police hefty raises to combat a worsening staffing shortage in return for eliminating a rule giving officers involved in an incident 48 hours before they have to give a statement.
Police critics and activists, however, want the council to wait until mayor-elect Ted Wheeler takes office in January — and they appear to have an influential new ally in that goal.
On Tuesday, the day before the City Council is scheduled to meet concerning the proposed police contract agreement, Hull Caballero and Severe issued a stinging public rebuke in the form of an open letter to Hales and the city’s other four elected commissioners.
The proposed contract “fails to address a number of issues related to police accountability that may undermine the public’s trust in the City’s ability to hold officers accountable,” they wrote.
Later on Tuesday, Hales released a response saying the letter “suffers from several areas of misunderstanding and misinformation.”
The letter is wide-ranging. It notes that the city is still exploring making changes to how complaints against police officers are investigated, such as allowing civilian investigators to compel testimony — a change that would require further contract negotiations.
“This interim solution does not address the City’s obligation under the Department of Justice settlement agreement, which requires that IPR be provided with the means to conduct independent investigations of police officer misconduct.”
The letter also addresses a draft policy for officer body-worn cameras, which was also the result of secret negotiations with the Portland Police Association, saying it includes “several provisions … that may limit accountability” and undermine independent oversight.
While Hull Caballero and Severe hail the elimination of the 48-hour rule, their letter blasts the process that led to the proposal.
“A significant overarching concern is that the proposed collective bargaining agreement was negotiated with no notice to community stakeholders, in a break with previous contract negotiations. IPR was not notified that the City was engaged in collective bargaining with the PPA, and the City did not request IPR input. We are concerned that the veil of secrecy that has enveloped the proposed contract and its creation stands to do long-term harm to the City’s efforts to build a stronger police accountability system,” they wrote.
“We recommend that Council delay action on the proposed PPA contract until the issues discussed above can be addressed. The current collective bargaining agreement is not scheduled to expire until June 30, 2017. Given the window of opportunity, enough time remains to craft a proposed contract that is informed by a more public process.”
Hales, for his part, said the contract doesn’t impede accountability. And he questioned the timing of the letter. “As Auditor and IPR Director, you enjoy a certain level of access to information that the public does not immediately have. Your concerns could readily have been resolved earlier in this process had you raised them.”
The letter appears to reflect continued tension between Hull Caballero and Hales, who have clashed in the past.
The Portland Police Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment.