Police reform will move forward in 2021
Many local racial justice advocates are angry the City Council didn't do more to reform the Portland Police Bureau in 2020. They were disappointed when the council only cut the bureau budget by $27 million instead of the $50 million that protesters demanded. The council also was accused of selling out when it did not rewrite the police union contract to make it easier to fire officers. And they were upset the existing bureaucratic police oversight system was not immediately replaced with a more effective one.
But all those demands are expected to move forward in 2021. Mayor Ted Wheeler already has told the bureau to request 5% less money in the next budget because of city revenue shortfalls caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A surge in resignations will add to the downsizing. Negotiations on the next contact with the Portland Police Association will resume after being delayed by the pandemic that upended day-to-day city operations. The council will appoint the new independent police oversight board approved by 80% of voters at the November general election. And the 2021 Oregon Legislature will consider changing state laws that currently hinder police reforms, including making it easier to fire officers who break bureau policies. They include bills sponsored by members of the Oregon Legislative People of Color Caucus.
The slow pace of reform understandably frustrates those seeking quick solutions to long-term problems. But some decisions made quickly by the council during the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd already are being questioned.
The $27 million bureau budget cut included the elimination of the Gun Violence Reduction Team, formerly known as the Gang Enforcement Team, which had been repeatedly accused of disproportionately focusing on the Black community. But shootings and killings have spiked dramatically since the team was disbanded on July 1, with roughly half the victims being people of color.
The potential for unintended consequences is one reason the majority of the council rejected Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty's proposed additional $18 million cut to the bureau budget just before the November election. Now Wheeler, who is also police commissioner, has directed the bureau and Office of Violence Prevention to submit funding requests to reduce the shooting surge for the council to consider this coming spring.
There is no guarantee racial justice advocates will get everything they want in 2021. But there will be many opportunities for them to influence the decisions to be made by the council and Legislature.
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