City Commissioners Randy Leonard, Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz called this afternoon for the publication of the city's controversial "secret list," going against the advice they have been given so far by the city attorney's office to keep it secret.
City council passed an "emergency ordinance" this afternoon to pay Multnomah County almost $1million of taxpayer dollars to administer part of the program. But the discussion took an unexpected turn after council faced questions from public defense attorney Chris O'Connor about keeping the list secret.
"Commissioner Saltzman and I have one small disagreement, which is publish this list," said Leonard. "Other than that this is a remarkable program."
"I want to add my voice to the chorus arguing for publishing the list," said Fish. "We get good legal advice, but ultimately we are the clients."
Fritz said she agreed with the remarks made by Fish and Leonard. She wanted to see how many women were getting into the program, too. After the session, Fritz clarified her remarks: "It's public record, how many times someone has been arrested," she said. "So why would we want to keep it secret? Since people could go to the trouble to get hold of this information themselves, I think the fact that it has been kept secret has become a distraction." "There might be a public benefit in publishing this list," she told a KBOO reporter.
You can catch up on what the list is by watching this 10-minute documentary, but in brief: It targets around 450 drug addicts in Old Town for felony treatment on what would otherwise be treated as misdemeanor drug offenses. The list is assembled by taking the number of arrests of Old Town offenders, and those who have been arrested the most over a 30 day period get on the list. At present, there is no way to find out if you are on the list, and no way to challenge your status on the list. The list has already faced its first constitutional challenge in court, when a judge overturned the felony treatment of two defendants under it. Broader constitutional challenges are expected soon, but in the mean time, the city has continued to decline to share the list with the public.
It's not clear at this point what is going to happen next. Commissioner Leonard would not go so far as to tell the Mercury that he is going to file a city ordinance to publish the list, despite now being in a majority on council, calling for its release to the public.
"I will defer to Dan's judgement," said Leonard. "But if I was the police commissioner and I heard what I heard today, I would come back to my office and order the police chief to publish the list on the web."
"I don't mind stepping on toes," said Leonard, "and I have before, and I will again, but I want to give Dan the benefit of the doubt. He's operating with the team day to day, and is getting some information that I am not getting. But based on what I heard today, I would be very surprised if he didn't go back and say that."
"Then the debate is about whether certain people should be forced into treatment," said Leonard. "And I will have that discussion all day."
Commissioner Saltzman was unavailable for comment immediately after the hearing, but staff said they would be discussing the outcome of today's council session with the commissioner over coming days. More after the jump.
Portland is the only jurisdiction in the country to operate such a list. At 2pm, Fritz asked if there was anybody else waiting to testify. Copwatch activist Dan Handelman and defense attorney Chris O'Connor raised their hands. "Regardless of your having sat here all morning, I can't sit here one more minute," said Fritz—Handelman had to leave without speaking up.
"I want to say treatment is great, I support it," said O'Connor, when the ordinance eventually came up for discussion at 2:30. "But secret lists are bad, and singling out people for enhanced prosecution is something that history has taught us to be very wary of."
"The program is also inefficient," said O'Connor. "If there was a way to straight up outreach and talk to these folks, we wouldn't need the money for police overtime and a district attorney."
"The whole program has been shrouded in secrecy the whole time," O'Connor continued. "All this talk today about process and doing the right thing hasn't occurred with this program. The whole program is very cynical in that it is simply an attempt to do an end run around the existing judicial process."
City Commissioner Randy Leonard responded:
"I worked to create this program, and I want to first of all say publicly that I wish they would reconsider this whole notion of the list being made public," he said. "But what has been mystifying to me has been that somehow we should keep private what otherwise has been public information. Why in the world the city attorney doesn't remove this, what I consider to be a distraction, and just say we have a blind system, is beyond me."
"As I understand it, the only angst around this issue is that the names aren't public, and I agree with you, Chris, they should be public," he said. "The whole point behind this program is to do something different than what has ever been done before and that is have our police officers think like social workers," said Leonard.
"What we have found from then until now is a 36 percent drop in crime in Old Town," said Leonard. "The current police chief, who I think we all agree doesn't always agree with me on everything, says this is the single most effective law enforcement tool I have witnessed in 30 years."
"A week ago Monday I attended an SCT graduation barbecue under the Burnside bridge and saw 30 or 40 graduates from the program," said Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman. He did not respond to Leonard's idea to publish the list.
What will the $979,256 cover? 1.The salary of a deputy district attorney to prosecute the felonies, and his clerical support ($142,000). 2.A parole and probation officer ($96,500). 3.Supportive housing for 12 people on the list ($555,600). 4.Outpatient drug treatment for up to 30 people through nonprofit Volunteers of America ($185,400). For access to the services, individuals need to be on the secret list:
Old town cop Jeff Myers, who came up with the idea for the program and has been lauded for it in national law enforcement circles, spent several hours this morning on the balcony at city hall, waiting patiently for the ordinance to come up. Unfortunately, council's session dragged on considerably longer than expected today, and Myers left the chamber around 1pm.
Nobody is arguing that drug treatment is a good thing. It's the constitutional questions that have gone unanswered, about targeting specific individuals for special attention by the cops and court system before they can get it. Especially when the list is being kept secret, and when many of those individuals happen to be poor and African American, in an area of town ripe for gentrification by development interests. The funding agreement was passed under an emergency ordinance this afternoon, which means no second reading will be held for further discussion, because a "delay in proceeding with this agreement will unnecessarily deprive Multnomah County and the City," according to the ordinance. Never mind depriving the folks of on the list of their constitutional rights, in the mean time.
Get the best of the Mercury each week in your inbox!