And Now an Exclusive Look at 10 Years of Police Union Grievances

Take a look at something you’ve never seen before (unless you work in the city’s Bureau of Human Resources): data (pdf) showing all 194 grievances filed by the Portland Police Association since mid-2002—including names of officers who tried to fight off bureau-imposed discipline—and how those grievances were resolved and when.

The records, obtained this week through a public records request, reveal some surprises (we’ll have more context in the coming week’s paper). The biggest is that the union doesn’t always prevail outright when it takes on the city. The union has either withdrawn a grievance or cut some kind of a deal with the city 127 times, almost two-thirds of all cases.

And while discipline makes up the largest single category of grievances filed and pursued by the union, those cases account for just about a third of grievances overall, 67. The union actually spends much more of its time fighting over pocketbook issues like overtime, leaves, health insurance, and compensation issues.

Some of the names on the list will look familiar: Leo Besner, Scott McCollister, Kyle Nice, Christopher Humphreys, Larry O’Dea, whistleblower Tom Brennan. But there are shockingly few repeat names. Also, it turns out, the PPA has defended only a fraction of cops who’ve been fired since 2002.

Although, as Portland Copwatch’s Dan Handelman points out, that unwillingness to tilt doesn’t extend to “any of the ones who have committed acts of excessive force” on duty.

Some other points of interest:

• Of 48 discipline cases that did make it to arbitration—an expensive, lengthy process—the union settled with the city 29 times (meaning neither side prevailed) and bailed on a grievance five other times. Only four discipline cases have reached an arbitrator, with the case of Ron Frashour, the fired cop who killed Aaron Campbell in the back, being the most recent. (Frashour’s case, because the city is still challenging an arbitrator’s ruling to reinstate him, is listed as “open.”)

Overall, 103 cases—just about half, including several that remain “open”—have been sent to arbitration. What’s not captured in the database are all the discipline decisions issued every year that don’t spur grievances from the union. The police bureau hasn’t returned a message seeking comment on that question.

• In 16 discipline cases, the union decided not to follow through on a grievance at all. One of those cases involved former union president Scott Westerman, who was fired last fall for lying about twin road-rage incidents from 2010. Westerman filed a grievance, but the union decided not to take it up—leaving Westerman without a job.

• But what about when cops are fired? Of at least 11 dismissals in the city database (including Westerman’s, even though the records don’t label it as such), the union either didn’t object to or stopped fighting eight. The PPA settled with the city over former officer Christina Nelson, fired for lying about a medical trip to Mexico, winning her back pay in exchange for her promise to then resign. Frashour, of course, was ordered reinstated by an arbitrator. And Edgar Mitchell, fired over a drunk driving accident, was also given his job back by an arbitrator. When the union didn’t intervene, the cases included on-duty sex, off-duty domestic violence, and dishonesty.

• The number of grievances filed year by year has remained relatively stable. That’s somewhat contrary to a statement I reported from Yvonne Deckard, director of the Bureau of Human Resources, who said the PPA’s current president, Daryl Turner, was the most litigious in memory. The highest number of grievances (32, in 2009) came under Westerman’s time atop the PPA. The PPA would need to file 24 more the rest of this year to top that—and, according to the database, the last time the PPA had that many over a 12-month span was in 2003.

This year has seen just once discipline case grieved so far, with most years seeing just a handful. The discipline in the Campbell case skewed 2010’s number a bit high, nine. In 2002, there were 16 discipline-related grievances—mostly because the union decided to fight a slew of suspensions and reprimands related to the “sexist and puerile” antics of the city’s scandal-plagued tactical team. Details about those complaints didn’t emerge until after the Campbell shooting, because the case involved one of the officers suspended over Campbell’s death, Sergeant Liani Reyna.

• Eleven discipline cases remain listed as “open,” with the oldest being a March 2010 grievance filed on behalf of Chris Humphreys, which could be related to his suspension over his 2009 beanbagging of a 12-year-old girl. It also could be related to a suspension announced years after the beating death of James Chasse Jr.

In one weird twist, a grievance involving Reyna, suspended for 80 hours for her role in the Campbell shooting, is listed as “closed” and “settled.” That’s strange, because an arbitrator is scheduled to hear Reyna’s grievance, alongside two other Campbell cops: Ryan Lewton and John Birkinbine. Both Lewton and Birkinbine’s cases are listed as open.

• The PPA also is still grieving pension issues, the city’s now-nearly-year-old 911 dispatch system, paycheck deductions made by the city’s payroll program, drug testing provisions in the latest contract, and fitness testing in the latest contract.

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Fri, Apr 20, 2012 at 6:11 PM

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