City Council votes stymie police responses and alternatives
Even though shootings and visible homelessness are increasing in Portland, the City Council rebuffed pleas from both the Portland police union and police critics when it tentatively approved a $5.7 billion budget for the next fiscal year on Thursday, May 13.
As a result, city residents will not immediately see a beefed-up response to gun violence or alternatives to police responses to 9-1-1 calls.
Before the unanimous vote on the total budget, Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner urged the council to increase funding for the Portland Police Bureau and to reinstate the Gun Violence Reduction Team that was abolished last year. In a morning press release, he blamed the record increase in shootings and killings on the team being abolished.
Instead, the council cut the bureau by $3 million, did not reinstate the team, and even postponed hiring more unarmed Public Safety Support Specialists to ease the workload on armed officers until after the bureau provides a progress report on the program created in 2019.
Although the council increased the budgets of virtually every other city agency, the $3 million cut to the bureau was still less than many police critics urged during the public hearing on the budget on Thursday, May 6.
At the same time, the council also voted against expanding the new Portland Street Response program citywide, despite the support of many witnesses at the hearing. Instead, the council voted to spend an additional $997,000 on the pilot project that launched in Lents in February, and to review it again after receiving a six-month evaluation from Portland State University.
The program pairs Portland Fire & Rescue paramedics with mental health professional to provide a non-police response to 911 calls. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who is in charge of the fire bureau, proposed spending an additional $3.6 million to expand the program citywide in the fiscal year that begins on July 1. She was supported by Commissioner Carmen Rubio.
The proposal was opposed by Mayor Ted Wheeler and commissioners Mingus Mapps and Dan Ryan. They were concerned there was not enough information from the pilot project yet to decide whether it was the best model. It was inspired by a program in Eugene that is operated by a nonprofit organization, not a city bureau.
According to Wheeler, all five commissioners support the program, but that there needs to be more information on its efficacy before expanding it. He said he wants to get it right.
"I don't think we have all the answers right now, mere weeks into the implementation of this program," Wheeler said .
A majority of the council also said they were disappointed with Multnomah County's approach to the homeless crisis when considering giving $2 million to the city-county Joint Office of Homeless Service to create more emergency shelters. Hardesty said she does not believe the county supports creating enough additional shelters to quickly reduce the number of people living on the streets. She said the county is more concerned with moving homeless people into permanent affordable housing projects, which take years to build.
Ryan, the city's liaison to the joint office, had requested the $2 million, said he said he understood Hardesty's concerns but felt the money could help persuade the county to create more emergency shelters. Wheeler agreed and the request was approved unanimously.
Other major budget decisions include:
• $5.7 million to fund a citywide cleanup effort.
• $6.3 million to fully fund the Joint Office of Homeless Services.
• $269,000 to help relocate struggling food cart vendors displaced by the construction of a Ritz-Carlton hotel downtown to Ankeny Square in the North Park Blocks.
• $250,000 toward a Truth and Reconciliation process to address historic wrongs committed by the police against people of color.
• A firm end date of the Independent Police Review on June 30, 2023, giving the council two years to create the police oversight board voters approved last November.
The new budget will be reviewed again by the council on June 17 and take effect on July 1.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.