My View: Use city police contract talks to press for accountability
On Jan.13, the city and Portland Police Association began bargaining for a new labor contract for the city's sworn officers. The contract was extended in July 2020 due to COVID-19 shutdowns and to allow the parties to bargain with greater public participation.
Public life in Portland has since included a vibrant monthslong mass movement for racial justice and against police brutality, which included unprecedented public engagement in the police budget, with commissioners receiving more than 70,000 contacts advocating for reductions in police.
Then, last November, the voting public expressed a mandate for police accountability as 82% chose to overhaul an ineffective civilian oversight system and replace it with a powerful remedy envisioned by Measure 26-217.
The community has been loud and clear in its desire for police accountability. The enormous authority to take human life necessitates robust oversight. In deadly force cases, an independent civilian agency must have explicit jurisdiction to evaluate whether the officer violated bureau policies with the ability to compel testimony and discipline officers.
As the city bargains with the police association, we call on our public representatives on the city's bargaining team to engage with the community's interests at the center.
For years in our city, we have witnessedpolice misconduct that has gone unpunished. We have witnessed in our city for far too long, police misconduct that has gone on without public awareness or oversight, and worse, disciplinary actions for harming the public are frequently overturned.
Instead of protecting the public they are sworn to protect and serve, police have used the process of collective bargaining to protect themselves from accountability.
The city should have the final word on discipline for officers. No state or federal agency tracks arbitration outcomes, but a Washington Post report documented 1,881 officers nationally who were fired between 2006 and 2016, and 451 got their jobs back through arbitration. Sometimes repeatedly.
Lack of discipline and the frequent reinstatements of police who engage in misconduct breed a culture of violence and racism, erode public trust, and dampen the morale of those who try to reform or discipline police.
Privileging the narrow bargaining rights of a few to continue misconduct without consequence is not serving the wider public interest. We call for a community-centered police contract that ascertains that all of our community members can live out full and dignified lives, free of violence. The goal is to bring about genuine safety and racial justice and the eradication of reckless state violence; the path is broadening and deepening how community voices are heard in this process.
We know this can interrupt Portland's too-often-repeating experience: a spiral of misplaced police power, tragedy for families and communities, and unachieved calls for change.
The Rev. Cecil Prescod is a minister of faith formation at Ainsworth United Church of Christ and chairman of the Faith Labor Committee of Portland Jobs With Justice. Candace Avalos is a Portland State University educator and civic leader.
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