Commissioner Fish Statement on Police Contract
October 12, 2016
Let’s start with something we can all agree on: one of Council’s core responsibilities is to provide adequate funding for fire and police. The community expects nothing less.
And let me be clear about my values: the important work of police reform and accountability is essential to maintaining public trust, and is a core responsibility of this Council.
The people we serve expect us to invest in public safety. What does that mean? A prompt response to a 911 call. A firefighter and an ambulance when needed. A personal relationship with a cop—which is the heart of community policing.
And that explains why, during good times and bad, this Council has worked hard to protect public safety from budget cuts.
The debate over this proposed police contract has been charged. I have spent a lot of time listening to testimony, reading emails, and getting input from trusted friends and community leaders like Avel Gordly, Dr. T. Alan Bethel, and Speaker Tina Kotek.
They remind me that there is history in our community to be accounted for. There are lingering trust issues. And there are unfulfilled promises of justice and reform.
During my service on this Council, I have been proud to support important reforms and accountability measures. This includes the Department of Justice settlement, discipline of officers who engaged in misconduct, a new police training facility, and proposals to reform the Independent Police Review process.
Not long ago, I spent the night on patrol with officers from the Gang Enforcement Unit. I saw firsthand their professionalism and dedication. They did the right thing under difficult circumstances.
But they can’t do their job if we don’t support them.
The challenge before us is a staffing shortage that is reaching crisis proportions. 911 response times are now six minutes or longer, putting Portlanders at risk. Chief Marshman reports that officers cannot follow up on some 911 calls, such as thefts with no suspects, because they are responding to 35 percent more calls than four years ago. We have a shortage of 65 officers—and 21 more vacancies to come this month. And the trend only gets worse. Over the next five years, the Police Bureau anticipates nearly 400 retirements.
To address this problem, there are proposals on the table to cannibalize specialty units like Gang Enforcement and the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit to get more officers on the streets. This would do violence to the spirit and the letter of community policing. It’s unacceptable to me and to the people who depend on these important services.
This proposed contract isn’t perfect, but it makes progress in a number of areas:
- Addressing the acute staffing shortage,
- Making Portland Police salaries competitive to help us recruit and retain qualified officers,
- Advancing our reform agenda by removing the 48-hour rule, and
- Affirming the City’s right to discipline officers who engage in misconduct.
The proposed agreement is also significant for what is not in it. As the Mayor’s amendment makes clear, it does not establish a policy on body cameras, which must be negotiated separately and then brought back to Council for a public hearing and vote.
Three final observations.
First, I have reviewed Ted Wheeler’s 10-point plan for police reform. This contract addresses a number of the concerns he raises—while other issues can be addressed through Council or executive action.
Second, if we are to make this investment in new officers, and retaining experienced officers, we must seize the moment to advance our equity and diversity goals. At my request, the Mayor has pledged to hold a work session in November to outline his plan for making our police force more representative of the people they serve.
And finally, some have questioned the cost of this agreement. I am more concerned about the cost of doing nothing. The alternative to approving this contract is unacceptable to me. It could be years before we get a new contract. The 48-hour rule would still be in effect. And there’s no guarantee that we would get a better deal in the future.
I know that my vote today will disappoint some in our community. However, leaders are called upon to make the best decisions consistent with their values. This proposed contract supports two of my top priorities: supporting police reform and investing in public safety.
I vote aye.