Portland City Council unanimously approved Mayor Ted Wheeler's proposal to create 12 new, unarmed officers within the Portland Police Bureau Dec. 5, but the council's debate over the roles left the police union sour.
The unanimous vote to hire 12 new officers—all represented by the Portland Police Association—could be counted as a victory for the mayor's office and the police union. But the tenor of discussion at City Hall left the union president "frustrated."
Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner snapped back at city officials who criticized the delay in implementing the program, which was originally funded in June 2017 but will now miss a Jan. 1 deadline set in the 2018-19 city budget. Meanwhile, Commissioner-elect Jo Ann Hardesty said the new officers shouldn't be represented by the police union, and Turner felt other officials had signaled their agreement with her.
"I am frustrated that this City Council has lost its focus. I'm frustrated at the lack of results for our community," Turner wrote in a press release on Dec. 6. "Jumping on the anti-police bandwagon is easy, perhaps even lazy, but it does nothing to fix the general livability issues that plague our city."
Turner rejected suggestions from City Hall that the police union had delayed negotiations over the new classification. Instead, he laid out a timeline that suggests the city was slow to come to the bargaining table.
"If city officials are looking for an explanation for the delays, perhaps a long look in the mirror is in order," Turner wrote.
The comments come a day after all four city commissioners joined the mayor in approving the Public Safety Support Specialists, or PS3s. The Portland Police Bureau will begin background checks for the first hires into the program in January.
During council discussion, Commissioner Chloe Eudaly pressed city officials on whether they had sufficiently consulted the public and community stakeholders when crafting the PS3 job description. Nicole Grant, a senior policy advisor and police liaison in the mayor's office, began to suggest that Wheeler's team could have done more to reach out. Wheeler cut her short.
"I profoundly disagree," he said. He suggested he campaigned on creating positions like the PS3 officers. The mayor promised to hire unarmed community service officers in the 2017-18 budget after cutting the popular Mounted Patrol to finance the pilot program.
Later in Wednesday's council meeting, Wheeler apologized for interrupting Grant.
Wheeler's office has been quarreling for weeks with the union over what the unarmed officers can do—and how autonomous they'll be.
During the City Council hearing, the mayor's office pushed back hard on the suggestion that PS3s would man front desks, which was one example Turner gave WW in an interview about the proposed positions. Turner also suggested the officers would wait for tow trucks at non-injury accidents and perform other support services.
The mayor's office later clarified that the PS3s would be able to do more than administrative tasks, including potentially walking patrol beats alone or with sworn police officers.
A spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau confirmed that PS3s could be directed to interact with the community by walking a beat, but said the "specific circumstances and frequency will be determined at a later time."