Your Ciy Hall: Police approach to homeless under debate
WHAT IS HAPPENING? Questions about how Portland police treat the homeless have emerged in a recent report issued by the Independent Police Review division of the City Auditors Office. The Portland Police Bureau has responded that its officers are following directives, but that more information about their interactions with the homeless needs to be collected and studied.
WHAT DID THE REPORT FIND? The IPR analyzed 700 reports of arrests made during the 2017-18 fiscal year. It found that about half of those arrested did not have a fixed address. About 60% of those arrested had an outstanding warrant.
"More than half of the arrests resulted from a warrant, but the criminal justice system needs efficient mechanisms for resolving those warrants so that people experiencing homelessness could avoid follow-up arrests," the report said.
The report also said that many officers have unclear expectations about when and how to enforce laws and policies against the homeless, in part because the city has a separate program for cleaning up homeless camps.
"Officers are given discretion in how they enforce low-priority offenses, but are not given guidance on how this discretion should be applied as part of an overall strategy in addressing homelessness," the report said.
WHAT DOES THE REPORT RECOMMEND? The report makes several recommendation for the bureau to follow. They include: seeking direction from Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Council on its role in addressing the homeless crisis; developing and implementing consistent directors for officers who interact with the homeless; improving the collection of information on encounters with the homeless; and working with other criminal justice partners in Multnomah County to reduce arrests for warrants for failing to appear in court for previous arrests.
HOW DID THE POLICE RESPOND? The bureau issued a written response at the end of last week. Among other things, it said: Officers do not target people for arrest because they are homeless; not everyone who fails to give an address is homeless; bureau directives require officers to arrest people with valid warrants; and steps are being taken to improve the collection of information about encounters with the homeless, including better identifying those with mental health or drug addiction issues.
Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said she will meet with Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, within the month to "clarify the police's role" in addressing the city's homeless population.
"While the report did not identify any actions by the Portland Police Bureau that criminalized persons experiencing houselessness, we recognize the recommendations can strengthen our existing policies and procedures and improve data collection for future analysis," Outlaw said.
WHAT CAN I DO? You can find and read the report at http://www.portlandoregon.gov/ipr. You can find contact information for Wheeler and the rest of the council at http://www.portlandoregon.gov.
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