2 Portland commissioners seek another $18M cut from police; mayor wants none

This comes after Portland City Council approved rerouting $15 million from the police department four months earlier

By Everton Bailey Jr.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Four months after the Portland City Council approved rerouting $15 million from the Police Bureau budget to other city programs and initiatives, the panel could greenlight diverting millions more from the law enforcement agency.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly have called for redirecting another $18 million from the current Portland Police budget. They propose spending the money on food assistance for city residents, legal defense for Portlanders facing eviction, continued funding for city sanctioned outdoor tent camps and portable toilets and other non-police services.

Portland City Hall's windows remain boarded up on September 4 amid ongoing demonstrations in the city calling for police and racial justice reforms.
Portland City Hall's windows remain boarded up on September 4 amid ongoing demonstrations in the city calling for police and racial justice reforms. (Brooke Herbert/The Oregonian)

Any change to the $5.6 billion city budget will require three votes, however, and Mayor Ted Wheeler has said he opposes diverting any more money from the police agency, which he oversees. Commissioner Amanda Fritz and Commissioner Dan Ryan have not publicly said yet if they agree entirely with either proposal.

Ryan spoke at length Tuesday evening with protesters who held a rally outside his home to urge more cuts to police spending.

The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing at 2 p.m. Wednesday as it works to finalize the city’s fall budget monitoring process, which allows city elected leaders to review and approve what are normally slight changes to the budget. A list of 180 people have signed up to testify and more than 100 pieces of written testimony have been submitted, according to the city.

Redirecting police funding to address racial, social and institutional problems that often lead people to call police has been a rallying cry across the nation amid months-long protests. In Portland, demands from the public since late spring have ranged from reducing the police budget by $50 million to eliminating the agency’s funding entirely.

Wheeler has said he wants the Police Bureau budget, which members in June set at $229.3 million, to remain at that level. It was $241.5 million the previous year.

“For me, there’s going to have to be a very high bar that’s going to have to be cleared for somebody to make the case to me that further reductions are either needed, warranted or even appropriate given the real public safety needs in this community.” Wheeler said during an Oct. 12 news conference.

Wheeler is instead proposing more than $9 million in new one-time spending, with the money coming partly from citywide coronavirus-related cuts and funding that was allocated for a new alternative first responder system whose launch has been delayed. When that program, called Portland Street Response, gets up and running in the first quarter of 2021, it will dispatch a paramedic, community health worker and mental health crisis worker instead of police officers to certain non-emergency calls.

Wheeler wants the $9 million to go toward initiatives that include continued operation of the city-created outdoor camps, portable toilets, hand washing stations for people experiencing homelessness, a fund for Black-led community groups and to support the Metro regional government’s Portland'5 Centers for the Arts.

Separately, some of the $15 million diverted from the Police Bureau budget in June is slated to fund new city positions within the Office of Equity & Human Rights, Office of Violence Prevention and Office of Government Relations to help address racial and inclusion equity as well as gun violence.

Meanwhile, Black-led community groups such as Unite Oregon and Imagine Black, formerly known as the Portland African American Leadership Forum, continue to seek a $50 million reduction in the Police Bureau budget. It was a demand they led during budget talks in June, during which hundreds of Portlanders made the same request in public testimony before the council.

Eudaly was the lone vote against the $15 million reduction her fellow commissioners approved, saying it was not enough to meet public demand.

The groups said as recently as last week that they wanted to see another $35 million taken from the police budget and put toward initiatives that foster more accessible and affordable housing, job training, job placement and business opportunities for Portland communities most impacted by policing and incarceration.

Hardesty, who dismissed the $50 million request in June, told representatives from Unite Oregon and Imagine Black last week that $35 million likely wasn’t going to be on the table this time around. She cited concerns that cuts that large could lead to the Police Bureau falling out of compliance with reforms mandated under Portland’s settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We are in alignment as far as our values are concerned,” Hardesty said during a virtual forum last Thursday during which she detailed her joint plan. “But strategically, I want to make sure that me and my colleagues are operating in a way that does not trigger more involvement by the federal government.”

After the public weighs in and the council votes on the mayor’s proposed budget changes, the council is scheduled to vote next Wednesday – the day after the election — to formally adopt whatever budget adjustments a council majority decides Wednesday.

In the election, Wheeler faces urban policy consultant Sarah Iannarone and Eudaly faces former political science professor and ex-city employee Mingus Mapps.

Here’s a closer look at the proposals:

Wheeler’s plan:

City bureaus requested more than $18 million in new one-time spending for the remainder of the fiscal year. Wheeler proposes funding half those requests with city funds.

Among the bureau requests Wheeler recommends the council deny are close to $8 million for community organizations to continue providing food assistance and $300,000 to help people buy basic household essential items, such as diapers and toilet paper. Both were among the initiatives Portland funded with federal CARES Act money it received in July. Currently, the city has budgeted $4.5 million for food gift cards for families, food boxes and free lunches for children until the end of the year and $160,000 for basic household supplies, city budget records show.

City Budget Director Jessica Kinard said during a City Council work session last week that the programs aren’t eligible expenses for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She also said the city was working with other partners to provide those resources to residents.

Wheeler’s supplemental budget proposal includes $3 million, which he said would be set aside for Black-led community groups to determine how its deployed to directly benefit the city’s communities of color, $1.6 million to maintain minimal staffing and maintenance until next year at city-owned venues run by Portland'5, $650,000 to increase trash pick-ups through the Homeless Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program, almost $300,000 to keep the city’s COVID-19 emergency coordination center open past December and $2.1 million to keep three temporary emergency outdoor camps open for at least 135 people experiencing homelessness and maintain portable toilets and hand washing stations around the city.

Separately, Wheeler proposes more than $800,000 for new positions using some of $1.5 million rerouted from the Police Bureau budget in June that remains unallocated. The jobs include a third position in the city’s tribal relations program, a new data analyst for equity and diversity and a new policy analyst to ensure the city provides opportunities and removes institutional barriers for Portland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities and two new positions in the mayor’s office of violence prevention.

That office, currently staffed with two people, has largely been tasked with coming up with a plan to address Portland gun violence, which is close to 60% higher thus far this year than last year, when there were about 390 shootings reported by the Police Bureau for all of 2019. The office also provides grants to community groups for programs aimed to help families of gunshot victims, outreach workers to help prevent violence and other public safety initiatives outside of policing.

Wheeler’s proposal that the city devote $3 million to priorities chosen by Black-led groups falls short of the pledge he made in June when he announced a 19-point police reform action plan. That plan called for rerouting $12 million, including $7 million from the Police Bureau, for Portland’s communities of color.

The $2.1 million he proposes for outdoor camps and hygiene-related amenities would come from $4.8 million redirected from the Police Bureau for the Portland Street Response.

Hardesty spearheaded the first responder alternative that the City Council first approved last November. The council directed it be housed within Portland Fire & Rescue, which Hardesty oversees. A pilot of the program was expected to start in the spring. Coronavirus was blamed for causing the program to be delayed. The additional funding Hardesty secured for the program in June was said to be enough at the time to support up to six teams in the trial phase rather than one.

According to city budget documents, the Fire Bureau only plans to spend about $580,000 of the $4.8 million the council budgeted for the program this year. The smaller sum will be used to create seven new positions and form two three-person teams. The first, expected to launch no later than February, would operate in Southeast Portland’s Lents neighborhood. The second team is expected to start in July 2021. It’s unclear where that team would be based.

Wheeler said last week that he proposes to redirect the $2.1 million to “send these dollars out the door where they can do some good right now.” He said the city plans to seek reimbursement from FEMA for the outdoor camps and hygiene stations and could use that federal money to replace funds taken from Portland Street Response.

Wheeler said last week that the city likely will have to make “major cuts” next year. He said he prefers the council begin discussing those after the Nov. 3 election and once all new council members start in January.

“I believe that’s fair to the council and I believe it’s fair to the bureaus,” Wheeler said.

Hardesty’s & Eudaly’s plan:

Hardesty and Eudaly don’t believe Wheeler’s proposal goes far enough.

“We are in the midst of multiple emergencies and we need to act swiftly,” Eudaly said last week during the work session. “I am very concerned with some of the impending challenges we’re going to be dealing with starting in January, such as a tidal wave of evictions. I certainly don’t want to leave all that up to whatever council we have in January.”

According to a plan released Thursday, the two commissioners propose redirecting $18 million from the Police Bureau budget, including eliminating the majority of police officer positions vacated when employees retired in August for a savings of $5.8 million; barring contract agreements with private businesses for officers to provide a law enforcement presence at sporting events and other operations and be paid overtime, which the Police Bureau calls secondary employment; and reducing overtime to save $4 million; $3.2 million in cuts to materials and services, such as impact munitions and riot gear; and eliminating budgets for the bureau’s rapid response team, which has responded to nightly protests since May, and the Special Emergency Reaction Team, the bureau’s equivalent of a SWAT team, which they claim will be a combined saving of $760,000.

They propose spending that $18 million largely to address COVID-19-related impacts. Under their plan, about $7.5 million would go to provide food security and $300,000 for household essential items. Another $7.5 million would be devoted to aiding residents facing eviction cases in court. The only part of Wheeler’s proposal that Eudaly and Hardesty also called for is adding $2.1 million for outdoor camps, portable toilets and handwashing stations. They want the money from Portland Street Response to remain where it is but did not disclose any plan to spend most of it before the end of the budget year, June 30.

Similarly, no details have been announced about whether and how the city plans to spend $1 million that the council redirected from the police budget at Hardesty’s behest to start a youth leadership program for Black residents of Portland.

While unveiling her and Eudaly’s joint plan during a forum that included members of Unite Oregon and Imagine Black last Thursday, Hardesty said the reallocations from the Police Bureau budget would make up for federal coronavirus aid that will end after December.

“Right now, what we know is that we will have thousands of community members that are food insecure, housing insecure, and that’s where we think the best investment of those dollars in our community should go,” she said.

(c)2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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