Commissioner Steve Novick wants to cut money from the Portland Police Bureau’s budget, specifically their Drug and Vice Division.

He said the money could be spent better elsewhere. Novick and the other city council members debated the unusual and controversial idea Tuesday during a City Council work session on next year's budget.

“You take one drug dealer out, another one takes its place. I wish it weren’t the case,” Novick said. “I think the evidence over the last 40 years is that chasing drug dealers just because they’re drug dealers doesn’t have much of an impact.”

The budget for the division is $4 million, and Novick wants to cut that by half.

The other half of the money would be used for things like emergency preparedness and intersection safety improvements.

Police Chief Mike Reese said going after mid- and high-level drug dealers has a trickle-down effect. He also said cutting the unit in half would make a bad drug problem worse.

Novick disagrees.

“I think when you have a choice between making an investment we know saves lives, like making a dangerous intersection more safe which we know saves lives, and making an investment like this, which 40 years of evidence shows is not really having an impact, then you invest in the measure that the evidence shows actually works,” he said.

Reese declined to address whether the proposed budget cut, if enacted, would create a danger to the community.

“I don’t know that I want to speak on what the potential impacts of that would be,” the chief said.

But this is a long way from being enacted.

At this point of the budget process, commissioners are mostly listening to pitches from departments about why they deserve additional spending since there is a cash surplus.

Mayor Charlie Hales will release his proposed budget at the end of April.

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