Rent-a-cops paid for by the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) were caught enforcing the city's controversial new sit-lie ordinance two days before its official enforcement date last week—despite repeated assurances they would only conduct "community outreach" on the law, leaving its actual enforcement to the cops.
Dale Hardway, a formerly homeless Portlander who now works in a building on SW 6th and Alder, was on the sidewalk during his morning break on Tuesday, August 28, when he saw three street kids walking away around the corner. A rent-a-cop working for the PBA's Clean and Safe program for Portland Patrol, Inc. (PPI) had just spoken with the kids.
"I ran after the kids and asked them if he'd run them off," continues Hardway. "And they told me he'd said they couldn't be there because of the new sit-lie ordinance, and that they'd have to leave or face arrest and a possible fine."
Council voted to approve the sit-lie law on August 15, but specified that the law wouldn't be enforced until August 30. Until then, only "community education" could take place. And after August 30, only specially trained police officers are supposed to enforce the law. But given Hardway's account, it seems PPI officers are over-eager to use the law to move homeless people along.
That Tuesday, Hardway says he then rounded the corner to go back to work, and saw the same PPI officer talking to two more kids sitting outside a Rite Aid. Frustrated, he decided to snap a photograph of the rent-a-cop on his cell phone.
"They were asking the officer why they had to leave," says Hardway. "And he told them about the sit-lie ordinance. So I asked him what right he had to ask them to leave, because he's [an employee of] Clean and Safe, not a police officer. I told him, 'You can't ask anyone to move.'"
"Yes, I can," the guard allegedly responded.
Hardway says he asked the PPI officer for his name, and the name of his supervisor, neither of which he provided. (PPI's officers are supposed to provide business cards to people unhappy with their service, as part of a new oversight process for PPI announced last month by the mayor's office.)
Hardway's friend and coworker, Dan Kemble, also saw the incident and corroborates Hardway's version of events.
The PPI guard's behavior appears to contradict the message Monica Goracke of the Oregon Law Center gave to a meeting of private security providers last week, just three hours after the alleged incident took place. Goracke is co-chair of the mayor's Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) committee, which came up with the law.
"My hope is that [the law] stays easy to understand and that it does not become some sort of tool to move people along," Goracke said. "I think that's important so that everybody still feels welcome downtown and we don't have conflict, and I think that's the way the law can and should work."
Patrick Nolen, of homeless activist nonprofit Sisters of the Road, who also sits on the SAFE committee, says he is disappointed that PPI officers seem to have jumped the gun on enforcing the new ordinance.
"I've heard about two other instances [of PPI guards enforcing the ordinance in August], but neither of them had enough hard data to go on," he says.
"This is worrying because we had hoped that this kind of thing would not happen," continues Nolen. "That it wouldn't be used just as a 'move-along law.' Sisters never supported this law, we've clearly stated on more than one occasion that the city did not need this law, and then to come back, and see that it's not even the people who have been trained to do the job who are enforcing it, is disappointing."
"If the interaction you are describing did take place as you described, then I too feel disappointed," says Goracke. "Education should not include the words 'You have to move,' but rather should be a low-key conversation asking people if they are aware of the law, and giving them information about where else they can sit and where they can seek resources if necessary. Only trained Oregon peace officers (i.e. Portland Police Bureau officers) may tell people not to sit or lie on the sidewalk."
The Portland Business Alliance, PPI, and a representative from the mayor's office all refused the opportunity for comment on the incident by press time.