City Commissioner-elect Jo Ann Hardesty says she is opposed to a new police classification that would allow the Portland Police Bureau to hire unarmed officers.
Mayor Ted Wheeler funded the Community Service Officer pilot program in June 2017, by eliminating the horseback police called the Mounted Patrol Unit.
The new positions have since been renamed Public Safety Support Specialists, or PS3s, and Wheeler will bring the final proposal for the positions before City Council on Dec. 5, after negotiating with the Portland Police Association to define the new roles.
That negotiation process is precisely why Hardesty says she would vote against the proposal.
"How will having unarmed police who are part of the same union (where you can't fire anyone) benefit Portland residents?" she wrote on Facebook Dec. 3. "How will unarmed police whose role is to assist armed police be better? I think we should just say no!"
Her criticism is echoed by police reform advocates who have wondered how effective the PS3s can be under the police union's negotiated contract.
"The PPA decided they would represent these folks," says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. "That's too bad because the PPA doesn't like to comply with regulations that say you have to use less force. They complain that those regulations are tying their hand behind their back."
Handelman says he supports the idea of having unarmed officers who can respond to some calls for service. Some other jurisdictions use similar unarmed officers trained in social services as first responders to welfare checks, nuisance calls and low-level crime.
PPA President Daryl Turner could not immediately be reached for comment.
Last week, the police union and mayor's office voiced conflicting visions for the PS3 hires. Union president Daryl Turner said the new police employees would be manning front desks and waiting for tow trucks. The mayor's spokeswoman said the PS3 officers would have a much more active role in the bureau and would be a visible presence in the city.
The proposal Wheeler is introducing on Wednesday suggests that the PS3s will take some police reports and can make follow-up calls on some criminal investigations. But other activities would likely require an armed, sworn police officer to accompany a PS3.
Hardesty says the PS3s should be divorced from the police union.
"If the current police are writing the rules for unarmed police how good can they be!" she wrote in a Facebook comment.