More than a week of protests centered on police violence have left Portland City Council with a full list of substantive police reform demands. These requests have come from grassroots campaigns, political candidates, civil rights organizations, council-appointed police oversight committees, and from sitting city commissioners themselves.
Some of these demands require immediate action from City Council—like the Wednesday vote on the annual Portland Police Bureau (PPB) budget—while others have been pitched as strong recommendations. Others are going through the court system to see immediate changes.
To get an idea of where these requests stand at the start of a monumental week in City Council (and how Portlanders can follow and contribute to the conversation), here's an overview of the specific demands:
Defund PPB Speciality Programs
Portland City Council will vote to approve its annual budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 (beginning July 1) on Wednesday, June 10 at 2 pm. The PPB budget usually makes up about one-third of Portland's total annual budget. The proposed allocation this year adds up to $246.2 million.
Several city commissioners and advocacy groups are looking to strip particularly problematic sections of the PPB's budget and relocate those dollars to social service programs. Spurred by advocacy from the group Care Not Cops, Commissioner Jo An Hardesty will introduce budget amendments Wednesday to defund PPB's Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT), a program known for disproportionally targeting Black Portlanders, and end PPB's contract with TriMet, where officers serve as transit police. Hardesty also proposed defunding the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, which places armed officers in public schools.
Mayor Ted Wheeler has already signaled his support of defunding SROs—but has remain silent on the pitch to defund the GVRT and transit police. Commissioner Amanda Fritz has also kept quiet about all proposals to cut PPB funding. Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, on the other hand, has come out in strong support of Hardesty's amendments. Eudaly's also expected to introduce an amendment Wednesday that will stop the flow of city Cannabis Tax dollars to PPB and instead "invest those funds in restorative justice, public safety, economic development, and addiction recovery initiatives," according to an announcement made by Eudaly on June 5.
The Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) has joined with Unite Oregon to ask City Council to also end the PPB's Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT), the police team responsible for using munitions and gas against protesters.
The public is allowed to provide virtual testimony on the budget to City Council during the 2 pm Wednesday meeting—before commissioners take a vote. Sign up to participate here.
Invest in Non-Traditional Policing Programs
If Portland City Council slashes any of these PPB programs, where would that money end up? Both Hardesty and Eudaly are also supporting a call from Street Roots and other organizations to put $4.8 million of that funding toward expanding the Portland Street Response, a pilot program that sends social workers and medics—not police—to respond to 911 calls related to houseless Portlanders and mental health crises.
PAALF, Unite Oregon, and other organizations have suggested "reimagining" public safety as a whole by reinvesting in community-led health and safety groups—a shift only accomplished through ongoing community conversations.
The Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing (PCCEP), a city-appointed citizen group responsible for making policing recommendations to the mayor, has echoed those organizations' more general call.
"PCCEP recommends that the city defund the police and refund our communities," reads a formal recommendation to Mayor Wheeler approved by PCCEP members at a Sunday meeting. "We furthermore ask that the city develop culturally specific alternative services that can address the needs of the houseless and those suffering from mental health crises and drug and alcohol addiction."
PCCEP suggested that, until the city figures out how to create a policing model that doesn't disproportionately harm people of color, Portland should redistribute PPB dollars to programs that actively support the community. PCCEP is presenting these recommendations to Wheeler this week.
Ban Police Use of Chemical Weapons and Munitions Against Protesters
For nearly two weeks, Portlanders have witnessed PPB officers indiscriminately using tear gas, “flash bang” grenades, rubber bullets, and other weapons against crowds of demonstrators protesting police violence.
Civil rights organizations, including the Oregon chapter of the ACLU and the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC), have called on Wheeler to ban the use of dangerous munitions and tear gas against protesters, especially during a pandemic that targets the respiratory system.
“Using tear gas and other chemical weapons that attack respiratory systems, cause coughing and make it hard to breathe in response to protests about the longstanding racial injustices in our communities is excessive and morally repugnant,” reads a letter sent to Portland City Council and other state officials by the ACLU.
While Hardesty and Eudaly have supported the tear gas moratorium, Wheeler, however, said he can’t ban the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons unless there’s another viable, non-violent alternative.
Civil rights groups are turning to the courts in Wheeler’s absence. On Friday, longtime police accountability group Don’t Shoot Portland filed a lawsuit against the city for using chemical weapons to limit protesters’ free speech. A federal judge is expected to rule on that case’s request to immediately ban tear gas use at protests as soon as Tuesday afternoon. Other protesters have brought lawsuits forward against PPB’s allegedly indiscriminate use of flash bang grenades and rubber bullets against Portlanders.
OJRC and the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) have also asked that all officers and command staff responsible for firing upon protesters "must face immediate disciplinary measures and censure, if not dismissal."
End Qualified Immunity for Cops
"Qualified immunity" is a legal doctrine that protects public officials from being sued from violating the legal rights of members of the public. Lawmakers at the federal level are working on a bill that would specifically end qualified immunity protections for police officers, meaning cops could be individually sued for unlawful actions against civilians. Portlanders want city officials to support that type of legislation.
At their Sunday meeting, PCCEP also passed a recommendation urging Wheeler to "initiate dialogue with Oregon’s delegation of elected Representatives to the United States House" and press for federal legislation to revise qualified immunity protections. CAIR Oregon has also called for an end to these protections.
City Council candidate Loretta Smith went even further in a Monday proposal to council. Smith, a former Multnomah County Commissioner, urged commissioners to "prohibit the City Attorney from asserting a qualified immunity claim in cases involving law enforcement" and withdraw all active cases that use qualified immunity to defend PPB officers. Smith is running against Dan Ryan, a former education nonprofit director, for the currently vacant City Commissioner Position 2 seat in an August special election.
Make it Easier to Investigate (and Fire) Criminal Cops
The Oregon Legislature's nine-person People of Color Caucus has proposed several new and renewed bills they'd like to introduce in the upcoming special session at the state legislature. On Thursday, June 11, that group of lawmakers will be meeting with Portland City Council to get their support and feedback.
One of these bills, introduced by Oregon Sen. Lew Frederick, aims to make it easier for police leadership to discipline and fire abusive cops. This piece of legislation, which has been introduced in the Oregon Legislature in the past, would require arbitrators (outside lawyers hired to settle disputed legal cases) follow a specific discipline guide to guarantee delinquent officers are held to the same standards.
Members of City Council have already thrown their support behind this bill—as have city council candidates. Yet police accountability groups like Portland Copwatch say the bill relies on an outdated and inefficient set of discipline rules—effectively undermining the bill’s purpose.
Tune into that legislative work session with City Council here at 9 am Thursday.
Commit to Police Union Contract Reforms
Over the weekend, we learned that the city’s current contract negotiations with the Portland Police Association (PPA), the union representing rank-and-file police, have been put on hold until January 2021. Since the current three-year contract with PPA expires this month, that means officers will be operating under an expired, outdated contract for at least seven months.
Police accountability activists want to guarantee that, when Portland City Council reconvenes its negotiations with PPA, it will be a transparent and fair process. The PPA contract is, traditionally, the most direct way City Council can instill changes to police accountability and discipline measures—at least in three-year increments. Community organizations, including PAALF, Portland Copwatch, Portland NAACP, and Unite Oregon, are asking commissioners to commit to several changes in the upcoming contract, like creating an independent civilian group to oversee police deadly force cases and allowing the city to fire openly racist cops. (Here's an example of when that doesn't happen.)