April 18, 2014
Mayor Hales, District Attorney Underhill and members of City Council:
We are writing to urge the City and the District Attorney to end their recent behaviors of staying behind closed doors when creating public policy on issues involving police and human rights. There are at least six programs that have sprung up in the past 10 months, most of which are targeted against homeless people, which were created either by the Bureau, the Chief, the District Attorney (DA), and/or the Mayor's office, but none went through a public discussion at Council.
1) Chronic Offender Pilot Project (COPP): This program, which was created by agreement between the DA and the Bureau in the middle of 2013, ostensibly was to target people committing otherwise low-level offenses such as littering and urinating in public, upping the stakes by charging them with "Interfering with a Police Officer" if they were caught a second time. As was reported in the media, the DA "accidentally" included the sidewalk obstruction ordinance (aka Sit-Lie 4.0) in the list of offenses. As a result, 17 of the 19 people arrested under COPP were wrongly brought in for sitting in the wrong place on the sidewalk and now have misdemeanor charges on their permanent records. Defense attorneys have noted, and we can't agree more, that giving officers the power to say "if I catch you doing this behavior again, I will charge you with a more serious, but unrelated, crime" opens the door to serious civil rights violations. We would argue that such violations already took place under this project. We had heard that COPP phased out in early April, but the Portland Mercury reported on April 17 that it has been expanded by the DA to cover camping and "erecting a structure" in a much broader geographical area.
2) Prosper Portland: While media reports indicate that the Chief created this project, and the Mayor questioned the wisdom of letting the Bureau make policies around homelessness (which we agree with), it's not clear how much of the Chief's plan is being enacted anyway. On top of the clearly hypocritical concept of helping people "prosper" by breaking up their living spaces and tossing away their belongings, this program was designed by the Thetus Corporation, a consulting firm with ties to the CIA. This corporate entity offered its services for free in hopes of padding its resume to bring such anti-poor-people programs to other cities.
3) "Quality of Life" program. A new unit with no name was announced in early April that includes nine officers, a sergeant, and All-Terrain Vehicles, to focus on so called "quality of life" issues downtown and in the Hawthorne and Lloyd districts. It is fairly clear this program is also set up to criminalize homelessness in Portland.
4) Neighborhood Involvement Locations (NILoc): Rolled out on March 25, this program encourages officers to get out of their cars for 15 minutes at a time to interact with community members in 20 different locations. Portland Copwatch has already received information that a team in the Kenton neighborhood kicked a young African American man, prompting local business owners to question whether the increased police presence is a deterrent to be in the area, rather than a deterrent for crime. This appears to be the same program described in the Portland Tribune in December as "stop and talk," which on its face is a thinly veiled version of New York's failed-- and racist-- stop and frisk program.
5) Private security camp sweeps: A contract with Pacific Patrol Services went into effect April 1 for "campsite cleanup." This contract was able to avoid Council discussion, as its $35,000 pricetag doesn't trigger the automatic Council review for contracts over $100,000. We wonder whether the settlement of the anti-camping lawsuit in 2012 envisioned turning over police functions to private entities, since complaints against PPS employees can't be made through City structures such as the Independent Police Review Division.
6) Portland Police as private security: The revival of police overtime contracts to act as security guards at the downtown Target store, despite the incredibly limited way in which such a presence might benefit anyone other than that one corporation, points to a further blurring of the lines between private and public safety officers. Much like the three officers whose salaries are paid by the Portland Business Association, this kind of contract indicates that the wealthy can buy more protection than average or poor Portlanders. The way things are supposed to work is that everyone pays their fair share of taxes, and then there is a public discussion and decision by elected lawmakers on how that money will be spent.
PCW fears that the proliferation of all of these programs in the shadow of an Agreement with the US Department of Justice indicates an attitude by the City and the Portland Police, which can be summed up as: "Yes, we'll start figuring out ways to be nicer to people with mental illness, now we'll have to take out more of our aggressions on poor people and people of color, and using police to benefit businesses only."
We note that there are a number of programs, including the aforementioned Sit-Lie 4.0, the Illegal Drug Impact Areas (IDIAs), and the Gun Exclusion Zones which have come before Council for discussion in the past. However, only the Exclusion Zones have come up in a report to Council in the past year, as statistics, reports, and an oversight committee for Sit-Lie were terminated in late 2012, while the IDIA reports, once sent to Council regularly by the DA, seem to have stopped. (We are looking forward to the promised discussion on the one policy issue which seems to be generating concern from the Council, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, later this year after Mayor Hales finds out about his security clearance.)
In short, we are urging the City to put a halt to these potentially harmful and discriminatory practices and require that the Bureau bring such plans before Council for a full discussion with community stakeholders and elected officials. The District Attorney should attend these hearings and be part of the discussion. The vacuum in which the policies are created shows what happens when people make decisions without fully seeking out input to think of unintended consequences. (Or, intended consequences which are an affront to human dignity.)
Please let us know when the above-mentioned programs will be coming to Council for discussion, and/or confirmed as "dead on the vine" (as Prosper Portland was called on the Portland Mercury blog on March 26, then reversed days later). As noted above, the city must stop making these important public policy decisions behind closed doors.
Dan Handelman and Regina Hannon (and other members of)