HOURS AFTER dozens of Portland police surrounded Terry D. Schrunk Plaza and arrested 10 Occupy Portland protesters looking for a new home—just days after an even larger contingent of officers at Jamison Square did the same, arresting 27—something curious happened in court to a Multnomah County public defender.
His client's case—involving three "nontrivial" misdemeanor charges—was dismissed because the police officer set to testify couldn't make it to court. The reason, says attorney Chris O'Connor? The officer had been on call for the past 24 hours because of Occupy Portland's expansion protests. And Judge Janice Wilson didn't agree that was a good enough reason to reschedule.
"Without the officer, they weren't ready for trial," says O'Connor. "When they're not ready, the court is required to dismiss the case. The city prioritizes that enforcement without thinking about how it affects other needs. I had a previous case dismissed, too. It makes my life a lot easier."
The dismissals point to what could be an overlooked consequence of Mayor Sam Adams' decision to decisively, and aggressively, keep the growing Occupy Portland movement from seeding demonstrations in parks that aren't Chapman and Lownsdale Squares: draining police resources, and starving other priorities, at a time of looming citywide budget cuts.
"This is the first time I've heard of an officer unable to attend" because of Occupy Portland, says Jeff Howes, senior deputy district attorney. "But this could be the first drop in the bucket. Let's talk in a week and see where we're at. I don't know."
Even before the big operations at Schrunk and Jamison, the Portland Police Bureau reported spending more than $186,000 in overtime costs on Occupy through Thursday, October 27. The bureau says that doesn't include so-called "straight time" costs for officers on their regular shifts who have been diverted to Occupy.
And the desire to expand Occupy Portland seems only to be growing as the camp heads into its fifth week—meaning similar battles could play out again.
Our local Occupy, ironically in part because of its good relations with the city, has emerged as something of a national darling. Now, some occupiers say, after allowing the camp to fill up with homeless Portlanders, there's been little room for an influx of politically minded activists. Media volunteer Jordan LeDoux says 500 to 800 people sleep at the camps every night, with hundreds more passing through every day.
"Newly arriving politically minded folk are unable to find a tent spot, which prevents committees from being refreshed by new energy and enthusiasm," occupier Illona Trogub was quoted as saying in an Occupy statement on Tuesday, November 1.
Police say, for now, money isn't an issue.
"Right now, the resources are available to manage this operation until the mayor says something different," says police spokesman Lieutenant Robert King. "That's the general sense."
"I know resources have been pretty lean since [October] 6th [the day Occupy Portland launched]," King says. "We've had folks working days, afternoons, and nights, and many people have been on call. This is probably the longest-term, most intensive operation we've been involved in as far back as I can recall."
But the mayor's office, meanwhile, has consistently told occupiers it won't allow camping, or any overnight activity, in any other parks. That refrain was put into heavy rotation last week, after the Mercury first reported occupiers had agreed on the Jamison demonstration.
Adams' spokeswoman, Amy Ruiz, said Tuesday that the Schrunk arrests were consistent with that approach. But one of the mayor's prime reasons for not allowing a Jamison expansion—that the neighborhood is overwhelmingly residential—doesn't apply at the federally controlled Schrunk, which is adjacent to Chapman Square and Portland City Hall.
Ruiz explained that the Federal Protective Service called for assistance from the Portland Police Bureau, after discussing the issue with superiors out of state. Portland police, however, "didn't consider" refusing the request, even though it was technically possible to do so. Sources say the feds have only a few officers on hand—likely too few to disperse the campers. But Ruiz wouldn't say what might or might not have happened if Portland officers did refuse; the mayor's office doesn't do "what-ifs."
Still, denying expansion may have one practical effect. It keeps the pressure cooker on in an encampment that's seen tensions arise over noise, drugs, and alcohol—and also over how to accommodate the homeless and mentally ill who have flooded the place.
As one occupier on the camp's safety team put it before the Schrunk arrests: "We're at capacity."