First published on The Big Smoke.
May 12, 2021
Last week, Civil Rights advocate Zakir Khan asked “If you were the Police Commissioner of the Portland Police Bureau what would be your first move?”
My answer wouldn’t fit in a tweet because I’ve thought quite a bit about the ramifications of municipalities negotiating contracts with so-called police unions that, in reality, should be classified as hate groups. Other than contract negotiations, these associations actually have nothing in common with the labor unions that police actively engage in attacking. And these associations consistently put Black, Indigenous, and other non-white people in danger by protecting racist officers, advocating reinstatement of criminal cops removed for cause, and fighting even miniscule reforms through lobbying and lawsuits.
If I were police commissioner (of any municipality), my “first move” would be immediate cancellation of contract negotiations with whatever association represents officers, such as the Portland Police Association (PPA), the oldest association of law enforcement officers in the United States. Instead, I would have a contract written and offered to all members of that organization on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Anyone who didn’t sign it by the current contract’s expiration date (June 30, 2021, in Portland) would no longer be employed as a police officer.
This would have one of two results:
- The possibility of meaningful reform and a police force that actually served and protected all citizens of any municipality that applied this option, or
- All members of that police force quitting.
Either option is a win for the city budget, the citizenry, and especially for those who are routinely harassed, injured, and murdered by police.
What would this fantasy contract include?
- Total elimination of qualified immunity by requiring that all police officers to agree to take personal responsibility for all actions performed while on duty including, but not limited to, payment of any settlements or judgments for wrongful death, denial of civil liberties, inappropriate use of force, false arrest, etc.
- All police employees must reside within the municipality for which they work. For example, all Portland Police officers, more than 80 percent of whom currently live out of town and out of state, must reside within the city of Portland. Any employees living outside the city who wish to retain their employment would have one year to relocate.
- All police officers, including those currently employed, must receive training from social service and mental health professionals in de-escalation techniques and other ways to stop a crime in progress without resorting to force. Any officer who does not demonstrate proficiency in these techniques would be put on probation until that is rectified. Any use of force when de-escalation was an option would be grounds for termination and revocation of police certification.
- Attendance at any workshop that teaches ambivalence regarding use of force, “killology”, or an equivalent philosophy justifying/mitigating police injuring and murdering civilians, will result in immediate dismissal and revocation of certification.
- All police officers, including those currently employed, must receive a thorough and complete education in systemic racism, colonialism, and white supremacy taught only by individuals who have suffered under those paradigms and who are paid adequately to develop and teach appropriate curricula. To continue employment, officers must prove they understand the consequences of systemic racism, colonialism, and white supremacy in the United States and their state/city of residence for those who are not white, straight, cis, native born, Christians speaking English as their first language. Any evidence of prejudice and bigotry on the part of an officer will be grounds for immediate termination and revocation of certification.
- All police officers, including those currently employed, must receive a thorough and complete education in the difference between consensual sex work and human trafficking taught only by current or former sex workers who are paid adequately to develop and teach appropriate curricula. To continue employment, officers must prove they understand the difference between consensual sex work and human trafficking including trafficking for domestic and agricultural labor.
- All police officers, including those currently employed, must receive a thorough and complete education in types of neurodivergence taught only by qualified psychologists and individuals on the spectrum who are paid adequately to develop and teach appropriate curricula. To continue employment, officers must prove they understand the difference between the behavior of someone on the spectrum, someone who has other mental health diagnoses, and someone who is using drugs.
- All weapons must be registered, including those personally owned by officers. Any officer found in possession of any unregistered weapon will immediately be terminated and their certification revoked.
- All munitions, including those classified as “less than lethal” must be strictly accounted for and their use documented and justified with verifiable facts.
- No current police officers will be eligible to continue employment if they meet any of the grounds for termination listed below at any time, past, present, or future.
- Membership or participation in any group that espouses white supremacy, nationalism, racism, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant, and/or misogynistic sentiments and/or disparagement of any religion (including but not limited to Indigenous religions, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Paganism) will be grounds for immediate dismissal. This includes posting any information supporting any of those attitudes to social media. No one with any involvement in any group designated as a hate group will be eligible for employment in any capacity by the police force.
- Any police officer who injures or kills an individual will immediately be placed on unpaid leave; required to surrender their weapons, uniform, badge, and police certification; and restricted from interaction with the public until the case is investigated and resolved. The officer will be required to answer questions about the event within 24 hours and may only be accompanied to that interrogation by their attorney. No other police officer or representative of any organization may participate on behalf of the officer in any questioning. Investigations will always be conducted by an outside body such as the citizen review board.
- If an officer is found to have caused harm to an individual without being able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they did so to protect their life or the life of another, that officer will be terminated, their police certification permanently revoked, and they will be required to stand trial for any and all crimes committed. While it is possible that such an officer may not be found guilty of any criminal offense, they will never again be allowed to work as a police officer or carry a weapon and they will be liable for any civil penalties resulting from their actions
- Any police officer found to be in violation of any department standards or policies on or off duty will immediately be terminated and their certification revoked.
- Any police officer convicted for any criminal offense on or off duty, including DUI, will immediately be terminated and their certification revoked.
- Police officers convicted of more than two moving traffic violations per year, or more than five in total, will be terminated and their certification revoked.
- Any traffic enforcement officer who neglects to ticket a police officer will be terminated and their certification revoked.
- Any police officer who witnesses any crime committed by any other officer, does nothing to prevent an officer from causing harm, and/or does not immediately report the criminal/harmful activity to their superior will be considered an accessory. They can be criminally charged as an accessory, terminated for aiding and abetting a criminal, and liable for any civil penalties assessed by a court of law.
- Armed police officers will only respond to calls involving actual threats to human life and safety. No armed officers would engage in:
- traffic enforcement
- enforcement of drug possession or prostitution laws
- answering calls about an individual experiencing a mental health crisis (unless there is a credible and confirmed evidence the individual is threatening to use a lethal weapon)
- property damage and theft
- protest response
- directing traffic
- harassing/arresting houseless individuals who have not committed any offense unrelated to not having a home (e.g., sleeping on the street, camping in the park, food preparation in public)
- Any citizen complaints about inappropriate behavior, harmful actions, and/or abuse by a police officer including, but not limited to, domestic violence, threats, coercion, animal abuse, and racial harassment, will be investigated by a citizen review board with the power to determine appropriate discipline including unpaid leave, additional education, and termination of a police officer for violation of department standards, policies, city code, and/or state and federal laws. Any police officer terminated by the citizen review board will also have their certification revoked.
- This citizen review board also will be the only entity to which a police officer can appeal if they believe they have been wrongfully disciplined and/or terminated. The citizen review board’s decision will be final.
- No former or current police officers or employees of the police bureau will be allowed to serve on the citizen review board. No prosecuting/district attorney may serve on the citizen review board until a minimum five years after they have retired or worked in a different aspect of law. No more than 25 percent of the citizen review board can be currently or previously elected officials.
- Any officer terminated for any of the above reasons automatically loses all access to any pension funds accrued on their behalf. Any pension contributions deducted from their paychecks will be held toward payment of damages until the statute of limitations expires and/or all court cases are resolved. No interest accrued on the withheld amount will be owed to the officer.
- Any officer who resigns rather than face discipline as outlined above will have their certification revoked and will forfeit their pension. They will still be liable for any civil penalties assessed by a court of law.
- Police officer pensions will be based only on the amount of annual pay earned by the officer at the time of retirement and will not be influenced by selecting specific periods of time. Overtime pay will never be used to calculate pension amounts. Police must contribute a portion of their salary to their pension fund.
- Membership in police associations will be allowed unless/until that specific association has been designated as a hate group. However, police associations will have no standing in contract negotiations and will not be permitted to advocate on behalf of officers under any circumstances. Any police association involved in lobbying any elected official must register as a lobbying organization and follow all legal requirements for lobbying organizations and individuals.
- Police officers will be required to hire and pay for their own legal counsel in all criminal and civil proceedings.
- A portion of the money saved by anticipated reductions in the police budget due to attrition will be used to create and/or fund separate departments. Employees of those separate departments will be educated in methods of and certified responsible for:
- traffic enforcement
- directing traffic during events (including protests) and at the scene of crimes, fires, and traffic collisions
- responding to mental health calls
- property damage/theft investigations
- investigating major crime such as rape, murder, shootings, assault, etc.
- answering calls to emergency and non-emergency numbers, differentiating between actual threats to human life/safety and all other situations including callers who exaggerate circumstances in order to weaponize police responses, and making appropriate referrals based on callers’ demonstrated needs
Employees of these divisions will not be permitted to carry lethal weapons. They will only be able to issue citations and will not have the power to arrest anyone. In the event a perpetrator of a major crime is identified by investigators, that information will be turned over to police officers for the purpose of arresting the suspect. Police officers will be responsible for safely taking a suspect into custody and remanding them over to the courts. No information about any suspect will be made public until/unless they are tried and found guilty in a court of law. Sharing information about people who have received citations and/or been arrested will result in the termination of the person who leaked that private information.
Any additional funds saved from the police budget resulting from the above changes will be returned to the municipal budget specifically earmarked for housing, social services, education, and restitution.