The mayor's SAFE committee is decidedly sullen this morning. Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese hasn't raised his voice above a low murmur during the first hour, and has been slumped forward in his chair with a dejected expression on his face. Mike Kuykendall of the Portland Business Alliance, who has been the driving force behind the ordinance from day one, is adopting the most conciliatory and cooperative tone he has adopted in months, asking committee members what they would suggest as an alternative to the ordinance, and challenging Reese's police officers over one outcome of Monday's listening session, that anecdotally, homeless people are being targeted disproportionately by the sit-lie law.
This week I wrote about Kuykendall's organization, the PBA, funding City Commissioner Nick Fish's election campaign, asking whether the PBA may have bought Fish's vote on council for continuing the law. But judging from the tone this morning, it's starting to feel as if the PBA's $6000 may not have ensured Kuykendall's political victory, after all.
Reese says he would hate to see the law go away. His argument seems to be that it would require police to work much harder to pursue people for menacing and harassment, for example, than it would to just target them with the sit/lie. His officers agree: They say it's a good way for them to talk with people and direct them towards services.
The group has also heard from a Rent-A-Cop working for Portland Patrol, Inc, introduced as Jimmy Baher (sic?), who described a homeless man as a "biohazard," for urinating and defecating on Old Town benches. "People want to sit there," he said.
"Most people really enjoy us coming by and waking them up," Baher said. "But as far as the sidewalk obstruction, I don't really get involved in that. I just converse with most of them. They're pretty agreeable with the suggestions for help, and so forth."
"Yeah, we look like some of [the police], but we aren't the police, and we're very up-front about what we do," says John Hren, the boss of PPI. "The problem in the 1980s was that there weren't enough bathrooms downtown, and the problem now is that there aren't enough bathrooms downtown."
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