Over the course of the past several weeks I’ve had a lot of conversations to think through what this movement in response to police violence requires of us now. As someone who has worked on changing policing from the outside for decades, being in the position I’m in now during this time is an opportunity I know I cannot waste and a chance to learn and grow. I want to share my thinking and vision for community safety, informed by my experiences, hard conversations with community members and advocates, and research.
Today, many of the issues police show up for are issues that could either be prevented or solved in other ways that do not require involving law enforcement or the criminal justice system, yet because their scope of work has expanded drastically in the last several decades, police show up when someone calls 9-1-1 no matter what the problem is or whether they’re the most appropriate response.
We are long overdue for a reimagining what community safety looks like, led by and for the community and for me that looks like:
- reducing and limiting the size and scope of our police force,
- reinvesting those dollars in community,
- creating alternatives to the police,
- decriminalizing non-violent offenses, and
- demilitarizing officers.
Because police have long dominated the narrative of what public safety should look like, we need to take a step back and instead think about what community safety looks like. Not everyone has the same view or experiences of safety, and that’s where we must start. We need to rethink how we manage conflict, how we deal with uncomfortable situations, what communities need in moments of distress, what constitutes a crime, and what an appropriate response looks like.
I believe there’s a different way forward from where we have been. A Portland where a reduced police force is focused solely on solving crime, and reinvestments in community and police alternatives provide support and de-escalated response to those in need of assistance. Imagine a driver getting pulled over for a broken taillight: rather than hitting them with a citation and fine, they are instead given a coupon to get their taillight fixed. Imagine you witness a tense encounter on the street: a neighbor, having attended a city-offered de-escalation training intervenes and both parties walk away calmer. Or imagine a houseless person sleeping on a bench: rather than arresting them, an outreach worker approaches them with food and resources to get them the support they need.
So what are some next steps to move us towards this broader vision for community safety? Here is what I am working on in the immediate future:
- the deployment of the Portland Street Response pilot program to offer a police alternative to the Lents Neighborhood
- setting up the Black youth leadership fund
- creating a participatory budget process with the houseless community
- a complete review of all PPB specialty units to assess their purpose and future
- a ballot measure to create an independent civilian police oversight board with powers to review police misconduct complaints, compel evidence and witness testimony, discipline officers, and impact bureau directives and policies
- a review of PPB’s use of force policy (something I’ve touched on in my recent letter to Chief Lovell regarding PPB officer tactics towards protesters)
- a transparent process as we negotiate for a fair PPA contract beginning in January 2021
- a complete overhaul of what expectations, job training, skills requirements are needed for the remaining reduced police force
Where do we go from here? Leading up to the Fall Budget adjustment (Fall BMP) we will be hosting a series of community events to discuss what community safety looks like and how to get there. The Fall BMP itself will be the opportunity to put our defund and reinvestment principles into practice.
These fundamental changes to our system are long overdue and while I’m learning and evolving each day on this issue, together we’re only going to get sharper in understanding and building out what’s needed. I’m not going to lie – this will be a messy and difficult process. We are entering some uncharted waters but given the abundance of models and success stories showing us different ways to transfer responsibilities that make the chance of another individual being harmed by a police officer rarer, the question is “are we going to give them a chance?” and my answer, based on the community’s demands and policing outcomes, is “yes.” There is so much energy and momentum to do something, let’s get to work on this together.