Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman defied a majority of his council colleagues on Tuesday, September 22, sending a memo outlining his decision to keep the city's secret list of downtown offenders a secret. City Commissioners Nick Fish, Randy Leonard, and Amanda Fritz all called for the list to be made public at a council session on August 26, but that wasn't enough to convince Saltzman. "I'm just looking at the issue, I think, in a fair and open manner," he says. "And not reacting to the politics of the list."
Saltzman had not discussed the decision with his council colleagues on Tuesday, but appears to be gambling against their collective political courage. Sadly I suspect they'll back down, and he'll win. Leonard, Fritz, and Fish declined comment by press time.
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 its existence in April 2008. Saltzman cited "privacy concerns" for the individuals on the list as justification to keep it secret this week, adding that they had a "constitutional right to privacy." I thought the Constitution also protected individuals from being targeted for special treatment by the government.
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, to get hold of statistics showing how successful the program is.
Bizarrely, Saltzman says that if the Mercury chose to put in a public information request for the list, "We might deny you at the city level, but you would probably prevail at the district attorney level."
So then why not release the list, regardless? "Because I am concerned about protecting the privacy of the people on the list," he says. D'oh! There go the Mercury's plans to print the list on our cover next week. Seriously: We want the list because we're concerned that last time we saw it, it was disproportionately targeting black people. And we have questions about the program's cost effectiveness compared to simply paying caseworkers. Also I don't see how giving an individual a felony instead of a misdemeanor helps their chances in life more than naming them as a frequent arrestee. Me and my silly questions!