Whoever takes the oath as Portland's next mayor this January (and it's looking like Charlie Hales) will wind up presiding over a legal settlement between the police bureau and US Department of Justice that was largely hammered out by the guy leaving office, Sam Adams.
That's an awkward thing to inherit. And, given all the questions and concerns still looming over the dozens of pages of details in the agreement, we figured it was a good idea to get both Hales and Jefferson Smith on record with some of their thoughts on how they'd approach that. There wasn't room for every single word in our print story in this week's edition, hardly any room actually, so we're posting the candidates' full answers here for your perusal.
Where should Portland City Council go looking for the millions a year in new ongoing costs this agreement requires?
Hales: Up to now, work with the mentally ill has been seen primarily as the responsibility of the County. I plan to work with the County to find ways for us to work together to find the necessary funding. I believe that as a part of the effort, we'll need to look to further reallocation in bureau budgets and reductions in overhead to help cover the cost.
Smith: Keeping Portlanders safe and building a greater connection between police and community will be priorities in my budget. I will be careful with how we spend and use our tax dollars for their intended purpose. We can trim middle management. I carried a bill in the Legislature to set a goal of 11 front-line staff for every 1 manager. The City Auditor reports in Portland it’s 6 to 1. I’ll keep an eye on middle management costs.
We might also find savings in spending on consultants and computer systems. And we should have greater accountability for private contractors. I will consider a “pause and review” of high priority for-profit private contracts over a million dollars.
We also need to look to the County and the State, particularly for the mental health elements. With the passage of the new library district, which will impact the city budget, there is a more obvious need to realign with the County the funding responsibilities of mental health and potentially other services.
In what areas does this agreement specifically fall short?
Hales: The report does a good job in setting a floor for what's acceptable in our community regarding reduction of incidents of undue use of force and how our police force interacts with our community, particularly with people suffering from mental illness. Unfortunately, it should not take federal mandates in reaction to civil rights complaints to update our 'use of force' guidelines. The number of shootings involving unarmed people with mental illness is sobering and I agree with the DOJ's findings.
But, because the scope of the lawsuit was largely limited to use of force (and particularly in incidents involving people suffering from mental illness), the settlement does not detail ways to move the police bureau forward in the direction of true community policing.
Smith: Though I have read the full initial DOJ report, I have not yet had a chance to read the full 74-page agreement. I’m glad to see expansion of the mobile mental health crisis unit, significant changes to training practices, a faster timeline for internal investigations, and changes to the Taser policy. We should look more deeply at how to diversify the bureau and to make sure shift sergeants are champions of high priorities for bureau improvements. There should be a clear understanding of accountability mechanisms. For example, if there is a failure to hit benchmarks in a year, the question of a special monitor might need to be revisited.
The steps laid out in the agreement are good ones—the major challenge now is to execute the plan, especially the community involvement aspect.
Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs) aren't bound by this agreement despite their promise to speed the creation of new drop-off centers for people in crisis. How can you keep them on task without a legal stick to wield?
Hales: We need to address funding for this new requirement at the state level, as the governor and legislature continue to put together the CCO budgets. Again, I will work with [Multnomah County] Chair [Jeff] Cogen to advocate for this critical funding. Additionally, we should look at our existing centers to see what adaptations can be made to accommodate this new mandate, in case we don't need to start from scratch.
Smith: We’ll need to coordinate with the county and other local governments to create a real crisis center. Since this is a federal agreement and the Department of Justice has also investigated our state mental health system, the CCOs also have incentive to live up to their end of the deal, lest they face greater scrutiny from the DOJ or the governor.
CCOs need funding from the state, and the soft power of the city can help exert influence there. We will need to work closely with our legislative delegation and the governor. 26 of the 90 Oregon legislators represent some portion of Portland; we need to better leverage our delegation. And a Democrat can’t be elected Governor without real support in Portland and Multnomah County—if that relationship is strong, it can help the city keep CCOs on task. When mental health facilities are sited, there should be a greater awareness of placing facilities near where population centers and families are located.
The City needs to use the levers we do have. CCOs might need zoning, permitting, and transportation access for new facilities. We have to work closely with the County, whose approval is often needed for new offerings.
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