PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – Outrage over a new contract that would allow Portland police to review body camera footage before reporting on it spurred a protest at City Hall, where police pepper sprayed activists.
The contract has been hotly contested by Black Lives Matter and other civil rights advocates who want more police accountability in the wake of highly publicized officer shootings of unarmed black men in recent years.
Opponents are most incensed by the contract’s provision allowing officers to review body camera footage of incidents involving civilians before writing up reports.
Portland police do not currently wear body cameras, but Mayor Charlie Hales expects them to within the next three years. The newly approved three-year contract does not create a policy for the body cameras, which will require another public hearing and vote.
Activists wanted Hales to delay the decision until next year when Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler is in office.
The vast majority of the city’s police union voted on the deal, which the union negotiated in exchange for pay raises. Hales wanted to fill 65 vacant spots on the force and has made the contract negotiation a priority in his last months in office.
In addition to the pay raise, the contract will clear 11 union grievances against the city, and will eliminate a controversial rule that gave officers 48 hours after shooting civilians before submitting to an investigative interview.
City officials have cited the need to fill vacancies to support their vote on the contract, with Commissioner Nick Fish saying the shortage on police staffing is “reaching crisis proportions.”
“This proposed contract isn’t perfect, but it makes progress in a number of areas,” Fish, who voted for the contract, said in a statement on his website.
Public outrage erupted at City Hall on Wednesday, when the city council approved the contract despite the protesters who descended on the meeting.
Activists representing Black Lives Matter and local group Don’t Shoot Portland set up tents outside City Hall Tuesday, pledging to disrupt the meeting on the contract vote. Many say they feel the city has not listened to their concerns about police reform.
Following the disruptions, Mayor Hales quickly adjourned and moved the meeting to a closed-door conference room. The remainder of the meeting was broadcast online.
Hales also rearranged the meeting’s agenda to deal with the police contract earlier than expected, and the City Council approved it in a 3-1 vote.
As police tried to disperse the protesters from City Hall, many refused to move. Officers deployed pepper spray on several people and arrested nine.
Police spokesperson Sgt. Pete Simpson said the pepper spray was used after protesters threw items at officers.
After they were dispersed, protesters lingered in the area, blocking off a street. Riot police lined up in front of City Hall.
Prominent Black Lives Matter activist and columnist Shaun King tweeted at Hales yesterday, saying the group “will likely boycott your city if you make this contract official.”
Commissioner Amanda Fritz explained her vote for the contract in a long speech at the meeting, expressing concerns about police accountability while explaining why she still wanted to move the contract forward.
“I’m voting based on the cost of delay, and the cost of ratification,” Fritz said. “Not the dollar costs the people costs, the community safety costs.”
Fritz cited the need to create a culture of community policing, as well as the need for new recruits to the force to prevent officers from working long hours that lead to poor decisions.
The activists have planned a rally for Friday to protest city officials removing them from the meeting this week.
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