There’s an utterly exasperating story from Alex Zielinski (who I hadn’t realized moved from Portland Mercury to OPB) about Ted Wheeler’s attempted bamboozlement of “a truth and reconciliation commission to address the Portland Police Bureau’s historic mistreatment of communities of color”.
More than two years later, that program has yet to be realized. A recent investigation from the city auditor’s office found that the process to hire a firm to help oversee the commission’s work violated city policy. Auditors found that the city’s Community Safety Division, which is overseen by Mayor Ted Wheeler, had attempted to circumvent a competitive contractor selection process. Instead, the city directly awarded the job to a company called TrustLab that has close ties with the Portland Police Bureau.
Those ties? Police union boss Aaron Schmautz, one of four advisors who “have specifically worked for the Portland Police Bureau, including […] former PPB assistant chief Dorothy Elmore, and former police union president Robert King”.
We could go a long way toward getting rid of this sort of nonsense if we simply ended police unions. I’m not sure I’d go so far as Philip K. Howard who for The Daily Beast made the “liberal case against public unions” but there’s something specifically and importantly different about police unions in particular.
Unions argue that procedures for accountability are “just a matter of due process.” But the process of accountability is so stacked under union rules—for example, letting a policeman under investigation review everyone else’s statements before being interviewed—that police chiefs don’t even try for dismissal except in the most outrageous cases. Even then, termination or discipline is often overturned by arbitrators who, under union contracts, have been approved by unions. Between 2006 and 2017, over 70 percent of San Antonio, Texas police officers fired for cause were rehired on appeal to arbitration.
It’s ridiculous, undemocratic, and bad enough to hand people a license for violence and death under the color of law but also give them not just nearly-universal immunity but control over the procedures by which they will be judged.
To also then try to hand over a truth and reconciliation process to current and former police leadership perhaps is one of the most insulting things Ted Wheeler has done.
I mean, look at this.
A month after obtaining a business license, TrustLab sent the city’s Community Safety Division a proposal to help prepare Portland for a “truth and reconciliation process.” Under this proposal, the company wouldn’t be overseeing or orchestrating the actual work of a truth and reconciliation commission, but its staff would specifically focus on gathering input and perspective from the police bureau to help design the final commission. The work appeared geared toward ensuring Portland police felt comfortable with the project.
It won’t matter, because Portland, but this one move should out Wheeler’s true aims: seeking yet another Portland Police whitewash, this time under the false flag of truth and reconciliation.