Portland City Hall
Portland City Hall Cosmonaut / Getty Images

The Portland City Council approved a $5.6 billion annual city budget Wednesday morning, including a 3 percent decrease to the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) budget from last year's total. It's the first time the police budget has been decreased—not inflated—in years.

The decision comes in the midst of a local and national uprising against police brutality, one that encouraged City Council to tack on $15 million in last-minute cuts to the initially proposed PPB budget.

"The fact that we received over 67,000 emails [about the budget] has just warmed my heart and spirit and my soul," said Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, before casting her vote Wednesday. "The fact that we have thousands of young people taking to the streets to point out the inequities in the system also warms my heart."

The cuts, most of them championed by Hardesty, will dissolve three police units with a history of racial discrimination. One is the Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT), a program known for disproportionally targeting Black Portlanders, another is the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, and the third is PPB's transit police program.

The budget cuts also include subtracting eight jobs—or $1 million dollars—from PPB's Special Emergency Reaction Team (SERT), relocating $2.3 million in cannabis tax dollars from PPB toward restorative justice grants, and redirecting $4.8 million to Portland Street Response, a program that sends trained mental health workers to respond to certain 911 calls instead of police.

The cuts leave PPB's budget at $229.6 million for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1. It's a 3 percent drop from the 2019-2020 budget of $238.1 million. But for some Portlanders, that's not far enough. During public testimony preceding the budget vote, hundreds of Portlanders spoke in favor of drastically downsizing the police budget—some even calling for its immediate dissolution.

“We should not be trying to just reduce the number of people murdered by the police," said Kate Hall, a representative of the group Care Not Cops, during last week's public hearing. "We need to eliminate those murderers altogether. The only way forward is defunding and disbanding the police bureau."

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly gave the only dissenting vote Wednesday, stating that she didn't feel like City Council adequately addressed the public's demands. But because of a procedural change made last week when Eudaly first brought up her disagreement, the budget was able to pass without her support.

"Please do not be discouraged," Eudaly told the public Wednesday. "What is happening today is big. It's not everything you wanted, but it's not incremental."

Out of the nearly 750 people who gave testimony last week, the majority pressed for a clear $50 million cut to PPB's budget. That number comes from a list of budget recommendations put forward by Portland African American Leadership Forum (PAALF) and Unite Oregon, two Portland organizations that advocate for communities of color. Hardesty criticized that request in her Wednesday remarks.

"I want to speak directly to the people who are outraged that we didn't have the audacity to cut $50 million from the budget," she said. "I want to be clear: That $50 million was based on nothing. There was no analysis done."

Hardesty said she doesn't simply want to "gut" the police bureau without in-depth analysis. She mentioned the recent promise from Minneapolis City Council to disband its police department, pointing out that Minneapolis will likely be in litigation with its police union for years over that decision.

"And while that court fight is taking place, the City of Portland will be fundamentally changing how community safety happens," said Hardesty. "We're going to create a community safety plan that will ensure that you won't have to worry about who shows up when you call 911. Will all this happen overnight? Absolutely not."

She pledged that, within the next 90 days, the public will see that their unmet concerns have been heard by city commissioners. Hardesty referred to future officers as members of a "community police force," and said that City Council will be reevaluating how members of that force will be recruited, trained, and held accountable.

"I want to be really clear with our community," she stressed. "You have won significant changes in the police bureau budget."

Long before joining City Council in 2019, Hardesty played an active role in organizing movements against police violence in Portland. She was one of several leaders in Portland's Black community who, in 2010, convinced the US Department of Justice to investigate PPB's disproportionate use of force against the city's Black residents. In her closing statements, Hardesty underscored her decades of experience fighting for justice against Black Portlanders victimized by the police—and addressed critics of the police budget. Here's an excerpt:

"For all the new young white people who are now demanding equality for Black folks in the community, where were you when Kendra James was killed? Where were you when Keaton Otis was killed? Where were you when Aaron Campbell was killed? I can tell you you were not with me reading police reports, you were not with me, advocating for city council for changes... you were not present."

"And I want you to know that it is not appropriate for you to say to me that I have not gone far enough. I'm going to lose patience with people who tell me that I don't know what I'm doing. If you think you can match your resume to mine, contact my office and we'll talk."

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Amanda Fritz applauded Hardesty for her dedication to police reform. Fritz has received criticism from members of the public for not doing more to condemn police violence and to commit to major reforms during her remaining six months in office.

"I am in awe in the work that you have done," Fritz said, addressing Hardesty before making her vote. "If ever there was a time for white people to be quiet, this was it."

Wheeler, who also serves as the city's police commissioner, said the budget left him feeling optimistic "for the first time in a long time" about Portland's future.

"The reality is very clear, it's unmistakable that many people in this community they do not feel safe in the City of Portland," said Wheeler. "And that requires me, as the leader of this city, to fundamentally rethink what safety means in this community. The highest order of leadership is that, when you listen and hear facts contrary to what you believe... you as a leader have a duty to evolve. And that is exactly what I have done."

Wheeler added: "I actually believe we're finally having the right conversations at the right time."

The budget will go into effect on July 1.