By David Krogh
Mayor Ted Wheeler has made the Commissioner bureau assignments for 2021 and will have oversight of the Police Bureau under his umbrella. In response, City Council Commissioners have all sounded off with concerns about public safety and policing in Portland.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has already spearheaded efforts to cut the Police budget as a means to initiate a downsizing and readjustment of police activities and perceived racism. She has also been instrumental in establishing the Portland Street Response pilot program.
Her website states, “Portland Street Response is a non-police response to assist people experiencing houselessness or a behavioral/mental health crisis.”
The program is due to commence initially in the Lents area and will include a Fire Bureau EMT and social workers who will respond to homeless or behavioral 911 calls instead of police.
New Commissioner Carmen Rubio has posted her first term priorities, and although she does not have any public safety related bureau assignments, she also is looking at the big picture view of public safety.
Her goals include ideas for re-imagining public safety. “I am committed to working with stakeholders, community advocates and my colleagues to re-imagine a community safety system that is right for Portland, and to make progress on dismantling systemic racism” she stated.
New Commissioner Dan Ryan does not have any public safety response bureaus to oversee as well. He views homelessness as a major safety concern and acknowledges citywide issues exist that will require cooperation and coordination from all City Council members, public and private agencies and the public at large.
His blog states, “I am playing a bridge-builder role, encouraging unity and earning the necessary buy-in to build a better system.” Regarding policing, he adds, “There is little hope for progress in either police reform or houselessness until our state commits to significantly improving its mental health system. Thankfully, voters and investors are committed to this effort.”
At Commissioner Mingus Mapps’ virtual swearing in ceremony, many of his comments were directed towards broader public safety issues and the rioting within Portland.
“The violence must stop,” he stated. “Please join us in building a team to reinvent Portland’s government to provide recovery, reinvention, and celebration.”
Mapps is a strong advocate for changing the City’s commission form of government and, like new Commissioner Ryan, views himself as a bridge-builder. His principal public safety bureau assignment is to oversee the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC).
There has been much in the media calling for a reorganization of Portland’s Police Bureau, and recent articles in The Oregonian have suggested the Police Union is eager to join the discussion. Mayor Wheeler’s website includes a page entitled “Racial Justice” which outlines steps he is taking to reform policing.
The Southeast Examiner contacted the Mayor’s office for clarification on the program and received comments from Timothy Becker, the Mayor’s spokesperson.
“The Mayor’s 19-point Police Reform Action Plan is part of a larger and continuing plan,” he said. “The public has given us this historic opportunity to reimagine what policing and public safety look like in Portland and all across America. The Mayor is also directing all City bureaus in his portfolio to develop strategies to better serve Black communities.
“In addition to the 19 actions the Mayor called for, most of which are complete, the Mayor and his colleagues on the City Council are in the early stages of renewing the city’s contract with the Portland Police Association. The negotiations around a new contact provide more opportunity for important reforms.
“City Council is doing the work needed to implement the voter-approved reforms to the city’s police accountability system. Finally, due to economic conditions created by the pandemic, it is likely the Police Bureau – and all other general fund bureaus – will face additional budget reductions beginning July 1 this year. The additional reductions will require rethinking the bureau’s role and priorities.”
It is not clear as yet how public involvement will be addressed for this process. With many of the Commissioners interested in public safety and policing reform, perhaps the process will become more transparent and open to public input in the coming months.
This is especially important in light of Mayor Wheeler’s comments in The Oregonian on Monday, January 11. The Mayor conceded that the current legal system is not able to adequately deal with anarchists who infiltrate protests and then commit acts of “violence and vandalism.”
Wheeler stated that state lawmakers need to focus on protest issues so as to give local authorities feasible tools with which to protect persons and property, as the problems identified are not limited to just Portland.