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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hales Announces Harsher Crackdown on Sidewalk Campers and Protesters

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Aug 7, 2013 at 10:27 AM

Outside Chapman Square around 10 this morning, and in city halls cross-hairs
  • Outside Chapman Square around 10 this morning, and in city hall's cross-hairs
This might explain why the Portland Police Bureau ignored several detailed questions about its plans for sidewalk enforcement at or around city hall for a story we're publishing later today. Mayor Charlie Hales this morning—just hours after his staff coincidentally reported a fight overnight had broken part of city hall's concrete balustrade—announced new teeth in his push to clear campers from around the heart of Portland's government.

“This is about lawlessness; this is about activities that are appropriate and inappropriate in the right-of-way,” Hales said in a prepared statement. “Some of the people involved have said that the laws don’t apply to them. And they’re wrong.”

The scene of a fight? Or a group sitting down?
The release doesn't specify exactly where cops will descend. But it confirms something protesters told me late last week, days after Hales had the sidewalk directly in front of city hall cleared. After campers moved their things to the sidewalks along Chapman Square and Terry Schrunk Plaza, police were out in force giving warnings for unattended belongings or for people who appeared to have set up "residence" on the sidewalk. Hales now says those warnings will be the basis of arrests, with criteria helpfully provided by the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office.

Anyone who was warned and is contacted again by cops and told to move can be arrested for interfering with a police officer if they don't listen. That charge is a neat way of getting around the city's camping ordinance, which says belongings must be cataloged and stored and also requires notice, and the city's sidewalks ordinance, which allows lawful activities like sleeping and sitting and eating on the strip of sidewalk closest to the curbline. (Hales got around that outside city hall by declaring those sidewalks a "high-pedestrian" zone—although his office has yet to explain how those sidewalks suddenly qualified for that threshold, normally given to sidewalks on Burnside or near transit lines.)

Hales has a big cheerleader in this effort in the Portland Business Alliance. His office says, in a statement, that protesting is still allowed outside city hall and that sleeping outside the building will be allowed at night. But now cops will keep track of protest participants and move them along if the city decides they've been there too long.

Update 12:20 PM: Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says cops began targeting hotspots about 10 days ago and that Chapman Square was visited a little after 8 this morning. But he declined to list today's roster until he gets clearance from the police sergeant in charge of the effort, something expected to happen later today. They don't want reinforcements showing up. Haynes, however, says other hotspots will be visited in the coming days and that they're all downtown.

"They're not heading out to the suburbs, outside Central Precinct," he says.

As for what the DA's office is doing to help, he wasn't specific but said Jim Hayden was the prosecutor in charge. He says, generally, cops are tracking how many days the same person is in the same place with the same amount of stuff. The cops, Haynes promised, will store any confiscated possessions for 60 days, under the terms of the camping law settlement approved last year. But as for minimums and thresholds about when warnings and arrests are necessary? "I don't have that level of detail."

He also wasn't specific about the criteria cops are choosing when targeting hotspots. It's a mix, Haynes says, of community complaints and what cops on patrols see. Chapman Square, he says, was "really bad." But that also implies there aren't hard and fast rules, which means cops and politicians can pick and choose where enforcement goes.

Around noon, however, the sidewalks didn't look any different than they did this morning. Graham, who has a tent on Schrunk Plaza, says two people were detained, one allegedly for spitting on the sidewalk but that several paper warnings were handed out by a phalanx of two dozen or so cops. People sleeping on SW 4th along Schrunk, however, were not warned.

A camper named Allen says one of those arrested was a man named Pablo. Cops, Allen says, woke Pablo up and told him: "If you move, we'll kick your ass." Allen also says cops have told him it's illegal to sleep on the sidewalks (it's not, depending on where and when) and that he and others should "find another town to move into."//end update

The view down SW Madison, along Terry Schrunk Plaza.
  • The view down SW Madison, along Terry Schrunk Plaza.

Hales' statement also still repeats a claim that 113 calls for service were reported over the first 180 days of the year because of the camping protest, although it still doesn't explain what subset of those calls were actual crimes vs. mere hits on a cop's computer dispatch terminal or observational reports.

“This has become a quality-of-life issue for people in the central city,” Hales said in the prepared statement. “Certain activities—including drug- and alcohol-use on city sidewalks, or establishing a makeshift home on the sidewalk—aren’t permitted. And almost every Portland resident agrees with these rules.”

In the two weeks since city hall was cleared, however, the camping protest has swelled up and spread out. Dozens of people this morning are out on SW 4th and down SW Madison. Tents also have gone up in Schrunk after, protesters say, the federal police who patrol the federally owned park agreed to respect tents as a legitimate form of protest during park hours, until 10 pm. Protesters also say they've been trying to bag their trash and drive out people using hard drugs like meth and heroin.

Public relations matter. And Hales, helped by the photo of a broken wall, is likely winning the fight.

The cops patrolling Chapman Square last week—not far behind park rangers.
  • The cops patrolling Chapman Square last week—not far behind park rangers.

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