Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman has defied a majority of his council colleagues by issuing a memorandum this afternoon refusing to publish the city's so-called "secret list" of downtown offenders, three weeks after three city commissioners asked him to do so.
Is Saltzman making a stand? "I'm just looking at the issue, I think, in a fair and open manner, and not reacting to the politics of the list," he says.
"After thoroughly reviewing the issues involved I have come to the conclusion that making the treatment priority list public would only serve to harm the individuals the program is designed to help and violate those individuals' constitutional rights to privacy," reads the memo.
"Publicly releasing the names of the individuals on the treatment priority list would only serve to invade the privacy of individuals we are trying to help recover from drug and alcohol addiction issues," the memo continues. "A core principle of successful alcohol and drug recovery programs is anonymity."
The list targets the most frequent arrestees in Old Town for felony prosecution on crimes that would otherwise be prosecuted as misdemeanors, as well as offering them drug treatment. The Mercury first exposed the list's existence in April 2008.
Saltzman said that if the Mercury chose to put in a public information request for the list, "if you really wanted to find out who these people are, you would probably prevail." "We might deny you at the city level, but you would probably prevail at the District Attorney level," he says.
So then why not release the list, regardless? "Because I am concerned about protecting the privacy of the people on the list," he says.
Saltzman says he will also direct the Portland Police Bureau to issue a policy insuring that an individual can ascertain if they are on the list, and has directed the Mercury to work with his director of public safety, Shannon Callahan, in producing statistics showing how successful the program is. "I think between 30 and 50 individuals have successfully gone through the program and are now in some form of self sufficient housing," said the commissioner, when asked for statistics on the list's success. He also quoted the drop in downtown crime of 34% over five years.
Saltzman has not discussed the memo with his council colleagues.
"Everybody can draw their own conclusions," he says. "I do have to say I don't think the right to privacy of these individuals has been considered."
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz has meetings all afternoon, says a staffer, and is unavailable for comment. City Commissioners Randy Leonard and Nick Fish are yet to return the Mercury's request for comment.
Update, Wed, Sep 23, 11:50
Leonard says he will defer to Commissioner Saltzman's opinions as police commissioner, but that "I have made my feelings on the matter perfectly clear."
Fish is still yet to comment, while City Commissioner Amanda Fritz told the Mercury she has a migraine this morning and had no comment.
Original post, Tue, Sep 22:
Questions remain about the racial makeup of the list, and about the success of the program in reducing recidivism for offenders. Earlier this year, the list's "71% reduction in recidivism" was being widely touted as a justification for heavy public investment. But that figure has since disappeared from everyone's talking points. The Mercury will lodge the appropriate public records requests and make an effort to find out how much the program is costing, per successful outcome.
City council voted Wednesday, August 26, to pay almost $1 million to Multnomah County to administer various parts of the Neighborhood Livability Crime Enforcement Program (NLCEP), which in turn administers the list. But the discussion took an unexpected turn after council faced questions from public defense attorney Chris O'Connor about keeping the list secret. City Commissioners Randy Leonard, Nick Fish, and Amanda Fritz all responded by calling for the city to go against the advice of its attorneys and publish the list. Since then, Saltzman has been consulting with the city attorney's office.
Until today there has been no way to find out if you are on the list, and no way to challenge your status on the list—as such, it has already faced its first constitutional challenge in court, when a judge overturned the felony prosecution of two defendants involved in the program ["Secret List on Trial," News, Jan 15]. Broader constitutional challenges are expected soon, but in the meantime, the city has continued in its refusal to share the list with the public, on the advice of city attorneys.