What's Wrong With the New Police Union Contract?

The dispute centers on body-camera footage—and who can watch it.

Portland's proposed contract with the Portland Police Bureau's union has sparked public opposition at a level rarely seen at City Hall: rallies, a camp-out and even a lockout. Here's why activists are alarmed.

Why is Mayor Charlie Hales eager to pass this contract?

Hales appears to have the votes to make good on a campaign promise to end the 48-hour rule: the provision of the police contract that gives officers who kill someone two full days to consult with an attorney before an investigative interview. Hales also has offered police a sizable raise, at least in part because he wants to fill 65 vacancies at the Police Bureau.

Why are protesters opposing the contract?

The flash point is a draft policy on the use of police body cameras. Putting body cameras on police officers is supposed to offer a measure of oversight of their actions. Civilian footage has sparked nationwide calls for police reform.

Yet the draft policy wouldn't allow supervisors to randomly review the footage for oversight of police practices. "It ties the city's hands on using the body-camera footage to the best of our ability," says Constantin Severe, director of the Independent Police Review, the city's civilian review board.

But here's the bigger sticking point: The draft policy would allow officers to review footage from cameras in all but officer-involved shootings and death-in-custody cases before they write reports.

What's wrong with letting police see video?

Critics say the cameras, instead of providing oversight, would function only as a way to make officers' testimony more credible, effectively undermining other witnesses.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense," says Don't Shoot Portland spokesman Gregory McKelvey.

Portland would not be alone in allowing officers to review footage, depending on how the policy is written. Severe says 90 percent of the cities he's reviewed have a similar policy.

Isn't getting rid of the 48-hour rule a big enough victory?

Some activists think the 48-hour rule, long a target of police watchdogs, was doomed—and Hales gave away too much in return.

"It's kind of a Trojan horse," McKelvey says. "[Hales] gets no accountability on the part of the public."

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