Mayor Wheeler’s $7.8M Public Safety Spending Plan Includes 636 Body Cameras and a $25,000 Hiring Bonus for Portland Police Recruits

“The public needs to know what’s going on,” the mayor said. “They need to see the sausage-making.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler outlined on Wednesday his $7.8 million public safety spending proposal, which includes the purchase of body-worn cameras for Portland Police Bureau officers, $25,000 signing bonuses for new PPB recruits, and expanding to more than three dozen unarmed public safety specialists.

The mayor opened the Nov. 3 press conference with a solemn message.

“This is the deadliest era in modern times for the city of Portland,” Wheeler said, referring to the record 72 homicides for the year to date. “Many Portlanders no longer feel safe in their city. Business owners have closed up shop for fear of doing business in high-risk areas. Commuters fear for their safety, whether taking public transit or going by foot. Parents are scared to let their children play outside. People are leaving for work, going to the supermarket or grabbing drinks with friends and not returning home.”

To remedy those issues, Wheeler plans to tap into the city’s $62 million budget surplus. Highlights from the mayor’s proposal include $856,000 for the city to stand up its own police training academy; $400,000 to fund the rehiring of retired PPB officers; over $448,000 to expand to 40 unarmed public safety support specialists, known as PS3s; and $400,000 for an independent assessment of the bureau’s crowd control procedures.

Wheeler also announced a plan to offer a $25,000 signing bonus to the first 50 qualified PPB or PS3 recruits. That suggestion is part of the city’s attempt to lessen the Police Bureau’s hemorrhaging workforce, and to incentivize talented officers to apply.

It’s unclear yet how viable the signing bonus proposal is. The mayor said the city must initiate the bargaining process with the police union, the Portland Police Association, to get its approval. “It will likely require [City] Council approval, and there are probably some legal issues that need to be hashed out as well,” he added.

The mayor also proposed $2.9 million in spending for the implementation of body-worn cameras for PPB officers. The bulk of that figure—$2.65 million—will be spent on the purchase of 636 cameras.

Despite the seemingly imminent acquisition of body cameras, the city still has its work cut out on that item: It must decide on its body camera policy, which can become particularly thorny when it comes to issues like privacy, who owns the data, and whether police are allowed to preview the footage before writing reports or testifying in court.

“This is not a hardware problem,” Wheeler said of body cameras. “You’re basically buying jazzed-up GoPro cameras. That’s the easy part. It’s really a data management problem.”

Wheeler said “the most substantive conversations” about body cameras have occurred during contract negotiations with the PPA, which has been negotiating its collective bargaining agreement during closed-door mediation with the city since July. (The parties’ eighth mediation session is slated for Nov. 8.)

And as WW reported last month, a push for the purchase of body cameras came from the U.S. Department of Justice as a remedy for the city’s lack of compliance with the parties’ 2014 settlement agreement.

Like the mediation between the city and the PPA, the DOJ mediation sessions in which the city, police union and other stakeholders discussed body cameras also occurred behind closed doors.

“You can’t build trust in policing if you don’t have accountability and transparency in policing,” Wheeler said Wednesday when asked about the closed-door nature of such discussions. “The public needs to know what’s going on; they need to see the sausage-making. And unfortunately, the DOJ settlement agreement is a legal proceeding, meaning you have various parties that go beyond the DOJ and the city of Portland, and there are a lot of negotiations and those negotiations are confidential. And that’s really unfortunate.”

The mayor then committed to a transparent accounting of the collective bargaining process with the PPA once the contract negotiations are settled.

“Personally, I would have liked all of those discussions to be transparent to the public, and we will have an opportunity as we get to the end of those negotiations to have a public vetting of what happened behind closed doors,” he said. “I plan to be there, and others from the legal team plan to be there. But while those negotiations are going on, I have to adhere to the rules that were established by the involved parties.”

City commissioners will discuss the mayor’s budget proposals, and their own, during a work session Thursday at 2 pm, followed by a second work session Nov. 10 at 9:30 am.

During tomorrow’s work session, or the following, the City Council will likely discuss another hot-button topic: funding a citywide expansion of Portland Street Response.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty announced Nov. 3 that, beginning Thursday, PSR will increase its hours of operation, launch its night shift, and expand its boundaries beyond the Lents neighborhood, to which it has been relegated during the pilot program.

“I’m so excited that today we are ready to expand Portland Street Response to a larger portion of Portland’s eastside with a new shift coming onboard,” Hardesty said in a statement. “This is the next step towards citywide expansion as we continue to thoughtfully grow PSR to provide a compassionate first response to people in crisis on our streets, which will also free up resources for our police.”

Police Chief Chuck Lovell and Portland Fire & Rescue Chief Sara Boone offered words of support.

“This next phase of Portland Street Response’s expansion is part of Portland Fire & Rescue’s commitment to health equity and a bureauwide vision for creating a community where all of our neighbors are able to access the mental, behavioral health, and social service supports they need to live healthy, productive lives,” Boone said.

Lovell described the relationship between PSR and the other public safety bureaus as a “valuable public safety partnership.” He noted that PPB’s behavioral health team has supplied training, support and offered assistance to PSR.

“We look forward to continuing to meet with members of the Street Response team,” Lovell said, “and collaborate on how we can best coordinate and align our resources to serve those most vulnerable and get them the help they need.”