At a time when the country is more polarized than it has been in generations, we must remember no situation is without its nuance. Today’s vote is no exception.
Two weeks ago, at the work session dedicated to the Fall Budget Monitoring Process, I asked my colleagues to name their three priorities at this time. We all named: Houselessness, Public Safety, and Economic Uncertainty/Hardship.
The Mayor, in his role, provided a draft budget. At the end of the session, Commissioner Hardesty made it clear she did not approve and would offer an alternative.
So here we are—
Common Ground and Complex Solutions
During my campaign for office earlier this year, I made repeated calls for a peace summit between police and protesters. Now, as an elected official, I realize that we may also need a peace summit amongst ourselves.
In these divisive times, we must be intentional about building bridges. I have worked extensively over the last 15 years on issues of racial justice and equity with people across the entire spectrum of our city to try to find common ground and innovative solutions to complex problems.
The budget projections for next year are uncertain. This will encourage us to collaborate, streamline, and leverage public assets like never before. The need for services is projected to increase, while resources continue to decrease. Meanwhile, many the of city’s direct service partners are stretched beyond their limits. In the face of the pandemic, we are experiencing fatigue and mental health challenges on all levels.
As a Council, we need to come together—and I believe this means including the Chair and the Commissioners serving Multnomah County. Creating budgets in government silos—especially around issues impacting an entire community’s safety and well-being—won’t work in these uncertain times. Together, we must build a Community Safety System AND an efficient response to provide food and shelter for our most vulnerable residents.
As we heard from both the Police Chief and the Budget Office—this $18 million proposal is a threat to our current public safety. It is our responsibility to work together and meet the demands of constituents—and present a plan that is impactful, substantive, and firmly grounded in data, sound budgeting, and community engagement.
And when I say community engagement, I mean reaching out to the community and bridging the gap of equity and access to City Hall like never before; this will also take intention and collaboration between the Council offices and the bureaus. I ask that we consider, who are we not hearing from? How can we engage with them? These questions and the work to answer them will be crucial as we work towards a public safety system that works for everyone.
We are all aware the community—en masse—called for cuts to the Police Bureau—last summer. A response was most recently reflected in the passing of the Police Oversight Committee measure this week. Hats off to Commissioner Hardesty for championing this measure.
During the 20-21 budget process, my colleagues also took action; first with the Mayor’s direction to the Police Bureau to make an $11.8 million reduction, then with the Council’s bold move to reduce the Police Bureau’s budget by another $15 million, resulting in a total reduction of more than $27 million this fiscal year—which we are still working through.
Chief Lovell was newly appointed during this emotional and turbulent time for the City, last June—taking on a new role amidst increasing violence, and navigating the cuts assigned to the bureau. It is my lived experience that leaders need appropriate time to adjust, redirect, and rebuild in these situations. We need to give Chief Lovell the opportunity to show us how the reforms from last summer look as we enter the 21-22 budget conversations. Increasing stress and tension between now and then and setting unrealistic expectations in an already challenging time will not produce the results we all want to see.
It is also important to mention–-viable alternative strategies to our current policing model are notyet in place. My team asked questions and expressed concerns about the numbers and the potential impacts—including layoffs—but ultimately received an unvetted final proposal with no clear plan for implementation.
On Tuesday, the City Budget Office provided members of the Council with their analysis of the proposed cuts, and they indicate that it is, and I quote, “likely that the bureau would need to reduce staff to balance to this level of a reduction.” What’s more, Portland Street Response will not be operational until 2021, and it will begin in the Lents neighborhood—a great place to start. Yet, the truth is, this much-anticipated program won’t be operating city-wide until 2022 or 2023.
I keep hearing—the time is NOW. Well, I AM—WEARE— responding now. We are responding to long-standing calls to reform the police—to an unprecedented global health crisis—and we are responding to the outcomes of one of the most consequential elections in generations. There are multiple amendments from each of my more seasoned colleagues to address the priorities we all agreed upon during our work session—including public safety. There are amendments relating to the Oregon Worker’s Relief Fund, Portland Street Response, the Joint Office of Homeless Services, the Office of Equity and Human Rights, and yes, the Portland Police Bureau.
As I mentioned in my comments last week—I believe our responsibility as a Council is to consider every one of these options— and to determine how they knit together to maximize available resources and address the priorities we’ve all agreed upon in this time of multiple crises. As we do this work, we must remember—cuts happen quickly, but building new resources that achieve proven results—takes time and intention.
Let’s move together methodically especially as the composite of the council will change in the near future.
On a Personal Note
I am committed to alternative police responder options and eform. But cutting an additional $18 million at a time when we have no viable alternative to fill the service gap left behind is not my idea of police reform.
I am committed to reallocating available funds and putting them into the community—to support equity, safety, and economic stability. This is why I am supporting many of my colleagues’ proposed amendments.
I am committed to alternative police responder options—so I will support and advocate for funding and resources for the Portland Street Response Team. We need to ensure it is successful by scaling up their work across the city, while simultaneously scaling back the Police Bureau’s role in interacting with our houseless neighbors.
I heard my colleagues, and I agree—we need upstream investments and preventative measures. I spent the last decade working toward these types of solutions—in middle schools where the majority of students represented BIPOC communities, and clear disparities in the discipline were negatively impacting children of color. Within the hallways and classrooms, a societal problem was painfully revealed. I knew that data in those schools didn’t lie—just like the data does not lie when those middle school kids become adults and they are the victims of racial bias and brutality by the Police.
There is strong research to show Portland’s crowd control practices in 2020 are outdated and costly. Also—poor decision-making and inequitable policing practices are directly and negatively impacting people of color. My point is—these complex times require new and complex policies and practices. It will take work, time, and persistent intention from all of us.
While it’s true the community called for additional cuts—last summer—there are no alternative options or ready programs to ensure the safety of our community if an additional $18 million reduction is approved at this time.
I have hope for what our team can do moving forward—together. The time to take aligned and strategic action—is not just now—it will continue through the budget cycle. Action is now for police reform, for a houselessness action plan, and for economic justice. As we build forward in this pandemic, our city deserves tangible results.
So here we are—
The vote for today on this specific amendment—is No.