Here's what our friends at Portland Police Bureau public relations have been whipping up today. I'm not even being judgmental. This pleases me.
A Multnomah County judge managed to rain down bad news on both CenturyLink and the Oregonian editorial board today—upholding an incremental land-line phone tax proposed by former Mayor Sam Adams (and loathed by the O) to help pay for police reforms put forward by the US Department of Justice.
CenturyLink had been hoping the courts would shut down the tax—approved unanimously by the Portland City Council last fall despite lobbyists' concern for senior citizens (who don't use cell phones), furtive threats of legal action, and a creepy robocall campaign by the Taxpayer Association of Oregon.
Under Adams' plan, Frontier and CenturyLink are now subject to the same tax revenue formula as every other landline provider in town. Frontier and CenturyLink had been paying taxes only on their basic voice plans, at 7 percent of revenues. They'll now pay 5 percent on all revenues—a smaller rate, but on a broader base of income—an increase that could bring Portland $3 million to $5 million a year.
CenturyLink, filing under the name Qwest and represented by high-powered law firm Stoel Rives, argued the tax was unfair because of other fees it already pays the city. It's also argued the city should similarly target wireless companies, which dominate the phone market and don't pay the same taxes land-line operators do.
Judge Henry Breithaupt had other ideas in his ruling (pdf), siding with the city and its argument that a 1997 case in Eugene on a similar dispute gave it legal cover. It's not clear yet whether CenturyLink will appeal Breithaupt's ruling.
"CenturyLink is disappointed with the court’s decision today and continues to believe that the city’s proposed fees on local telephone companies are in conflict with applicable state and federal restrictions," Chris Denzin, CenturyLink's vice president and general manager for Oregon and Southwest Washington, said in a statement. "CenturyLink continues to be committed to protecting our customers’ interests, and is considering its options, but has no further comment pending a review of the court’s decision."
The uncertainty surrounding this tax revenue probably played some role in Mayor Charlie Hales' decision to seek a $3 million council contingency fund next year. I'll update when I hear back from Hales' office with their reaction to the ruling. Even if the tax isn't further appealed, I don't expect Hales will back down from his decision to keep the piggy bank densely packed.
Update 4:46 PM: Hales' office is obviously pleased with the ruling. But Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, has confirmed my suspicions about the contingency plan. At least, related to this issue.
"The mayor plans no change in his recommended contingency, which, if approved, still would be less than 1 percent of the general fund."
Mayor Charlie Hales is on the way to delivering on what had been a stalled and somewhat troubled police accountability promise under his predecessor: a dramatic reorientation of the psychological vetting the Portland Police Bureau relies on for screening applicants, and current cops, who might be prone to violence or racial bias or are otherwise unfit for duty.
At Hales' prompting, the police bureau this morning announced it was seeking résumés for two separate psychological contracts—one to work with recruits and another to work with current cops. Further, the bureau will be conducting a national search to fill the positions and working hand-in-hand with community groups in hopes of reaching a diverse pool of applicants who either are deeply familiar with "cultural competency" or have a plan to address how they'll get there.
"They're a little bit closer to doing this the right way at this point," says Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch. Handelman sits on the steering committee of the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, the group that led the push for changes. "We'll see when the applications come through, and the interviews are done, how many people actually applied we whether have a growing sense of diversity."
The bureau's psychological vetting has been handled, for the past 13 years, by a lone white Lake Oswego psychologist named David Corey. Groups like the AMA and Copwatch have long raised questions about Corey and his work in light of police shootings and lingering concerns about racial bias in the bureau.
The AMA was especially rueful when, last year—despite promises its leadership would be closely consulted on recruitment the next time Corey's contract was up for renewal—the police bureau pushed ahead without the group's input. The bureau ultimately chose Corey again, after only one other applicant submitted.
Just when you thought leaving it behind at the hospital was the only option for your afterbirth…..
Pretty much everyone in the Oregon Legislature is all about HB2612—a bill that allows postpartum moms to take their placentas home with them.
The thing is, some people have already been taking their disposable organs home, breaking the law without knowing it. “I think this was a huge shock to everyone” says Representative Allisa Keny-Guyer (D) regarding the legality of placenta custody. Patients aren’t allowed to keep “medical waste” of any kind as souvenirs, but many hospitals have been making the exception for placentas because the language of the law is so unclear.
A placenta is the iron-rich sack of flesh that nourishes a baby in the womb. It allows mother and child to trade nutrients for poop (thanks again, Mom!). From the Latin for cake, the placenta is round and flat. Also, most mammals eat them post birth. Some humans do, too. Moms have been known to fry it up like a steak (most likely with some fava beans and a light Chianti), or pay one of several businesses that will cook, dehydrate, and pulverize a placenta, and then put the resulting powder into capsules you can swallow.
Many cultures have rituals and traditions regarding placentas. Some believe eating the self-made nutrients help aid in lactation, boost energy, and aid postpartum depression. It’s also common to bury it and plant a tree on top to represent new life. Apparently you can also make art and jewelry and drums out of it too.
On the Senate floor Senator Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward said “it’s a pretty straightforward bill, it’s safe, let’s do this.” And they did. The measure passed unanimously in the Senate today, following last week’s unanimous approval by the House.
The original bill prohibited selling the placenta, but the amended language puts the guidelines into the hands of the Oregon Health Authority. They can put that part in or not, since they’re in charge of all the logistics of the regulation.
On an equally gross note, today the House Judiciary Committee heard public testimony on a bill that would make spitting on a police officer a felony.
To mark the occasion and reflect on how far the city and police bureau have come since then—and how far they haven't—advocates are planning a vigil that night near the spot where James was killed.
Here's a release from the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform:
On Sunday, May 5, the Albina Ministerial Alliance (AMA) Coalition for Justice and Police Reform will lead a memorial vigil for Kendra James, the young woman killed by Officer Scott McCollister exactly 10 years ago on the Skidmore overpass in Portland. The memorial will be held outside the Greater Faith Baptist Church at 931 N Skidmore, just yards away from the spot where McCollister discharged his pistol at James, who was behind the wheel of a car. The vigil will begin at 5 PM. Members of James' family will be in attendance.
Despite McCollister's claims that he "feared for his life," the AMA Coalition presented a detailed analysis that McCollister was not in any danger, knew who the unarmed Kendra James was and could have found her even if she had driven away, and raised serious questions about whether he had collaborated with the other officers on the scene by meeting at a restaurant to get their stories straight before they talked to investigators. McCollister was given 180 days' suspension, but that discipline was overturned by an arbitrator after the Portland Police Association grieved the action.
"The Kendra James case was a key to opening the movement towards bringing justice and police reform in the City of Portland," said Dr. LeRoy Haynes, Jr, Chair of the AMA Coalition. Many in Portland who saw the shooting of an unarmed African American woman as a symptom of a Police Bureau needing major reforms. In many ways her death led the accountability efforts down the path to the changes now being sought as a remedy by the Department of Justice in their lawsuit against the City.
As the Mercury first reported in January, though the city and county planned and built the facility specifically as a mental health resource for police, the cops have yet to take a single person there in the nearly two years it's been open. Losing the money will force the CATC to give up five of its beds—which translates to losing help for an expected 200 people over the fiscal year.
The police bureau has complained that rules limiting who can be taken to the facility (someone must be stable and lack private insurance) pose too many "obstacles" for cops. The bureau prefers a much more expensive drop-off center where officers don't have to call ahead or spend any time helping with intake. City commissioners and the mayor appear to have been swayed by that argument, which the county has rejected as the cops looking for "convenience" instead of good public policy. The recommendation came in a report submitted to Hales by Commissioners Steve Novick and Nick Fish.
“The notion that the police bureau is convincing people to disinvest in a facility that provides a safe place for people in a mental health crisis is unbelievable,” Cogen says. “This is a bureau that's being sued by the federal government."
Based on hints he dropped during his State of the City speech last Friday, it was pretty clear Mayor Charlie Hales had the Portland Police Bureau's mounted patrol unit in his fiscal cross-hairs. And it was completely unsurprising this morning when Hales, in unveiling his proposed budget, said he wanted to cut the division and save $1.1 million that might be used for other priorities.
Cutting the patrol has been an oft-raised but never actually implemented idea. Money's always come from the private sector to restore reductions. That gap might be a bit too big this year. But clearly people will be trying. A Facebook page is already up, looking to lobby Hales to restore the unit.
But Hales seems pretty resolute that he thinks the money can be better spent.
"We're not going to be able to keep our horse patrol unit," the mayor said today, "as much as we all love it."
All 21 people who love it, so far.
Cue the "guess you CAN touch this" quips. Police are announcing they arrested the so-called "Hammer Pants Bandit" on Thursday, after the suspect eluded authorities for months.
According to a fresh release from the Portland Police Bureau, cops arrested 46-year-old Weston Miner Rogers at his residence on SE Aspen Summit Drive, just east of I-205. He's accused of three bank robberies in the Portland region that occurred between October and February.
Here's the thing: I'm appreciative that cops seem to take a certain amount of pride in flashy bandit names. I am. But what's the system here? Where is the overarching logic in these things?
A cursory search of PPB news releases in past several years helps illustrate my point.
"Dopey the Bandit" you may remember from earlier this year. He was connected to a spate of robberies in 2012 and 2013, and he looks literally NOTHING LIKE BELOVED DISNEY DWARF DOPEY. More like a methy, balding LeFou. Also: he (allegedly) pulled off 11 robberies in like two months. He's certainly more industrious than Dopey—obsessed as he is with silliness and mirth—would have been. Explanation from the press release: "Kehm was nicknamed 'Dopey the Bandit' after numerous Portland area robberies." Unhelpful.
There was the "Hipster Bandit," whose moniker's origins are a little more clear: He rode a bike and a witness told police he "looked like a hipster." Fair, and relatively certain to appeal to the sensibilities of a society thirsty to demonize hipsterdom in all its ever-changing faces.
And last summer came the "Bling Bandit," which the PPB didn't even try to justify, though the eventual suspect was helpfully named Ivory.
What's my point? Sometimes the names are helpful descriptors, sometimes they're bewildering, and this time around we're all in for a big disappointment. Because Weston Miner Rogers did not wear hammer pants, friends. He didn't even keep a hammer IN his pants. He (allegedly) kept it in his sleeve, pretending it was a gun.
Bureau Spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson tells the Mercury investigators come up with the names for internal reference and try to at least loosely key in on a description. That used to be solely the province of the feds, but local authorities are stepping in more and more on bank robbery cases.
"Hammer sleeve doesn't sound as catchy as hammer pants," says Simpson, who himself owned a pair in more-innocent times. "Those names are all about being catchy."
There are times in the career of any serious news man that shake one's ability to feel. I'm right there.
Portland City Council this afternoon gently pumped the brakes on a request by the city attorney's office to appeal a $306,000 jury award in favor of a Portland man punched, Tasered, tackled, pepper-sprayed, and hog-tied by Portland cops down the street from an Old Town nightclub in 2010.
As reported last Friday, the city attorney's office wants a new trial in the case. It's worried less about the force used against the victim, Gallagher Smith, as much as where the force was used: on a city sidewalk. Because a judge told jurors the the cops lacked probable cause when they told Smith to move along, attorneys and police brass are worried the case abrogates cops' right to direct traffic on Old Town sidewalks.
But in council today, Commissioner Amanda Fritz joined activists in pulling the item of the consent agenda, where it otherwise would have been approved unanimously and with no debate. And then Commissioner Steve Novick persuaded his colleagues to approve a modified version of the request that lets the attorney's office file only a notice of its intent to appeal—not any actual legal briefs.
More action will require another city vote. In the meantime, the city attorney's office has been asked to look into whether it can pay Smith his money while still contesting the sidewalks issue. An appeal could take years. The city, if it loses, could pay what City Attorney James Van Dyke estimated was $55,000 more in interest, not including a potential 10 percent penalty.
Fritz, however, still voted no—the only commissioner to do so. (Dan Saltzman was absent for the vote on the appeal.)
We reported last week about a tentative plan to keep the Portland Police Bureau—facing the prospect of losing more than two-dozen officers because of budget cuts—from having to lay off its most junior cops. That's no small feat, because those new hires, thanks to improved recruiting in recent years, happen to be some of the bureau's most diverse cops.
How diverse are we talking? The bureau has provided the Mercury a chart breaking down, by demographic marker, the 29 cops who could be affected by budget cuts. The percentage of women in the group matches up among some of the bureau's best recent hiring classes. And the percentage of white men is lower, by far, than the norm for the bureau and even citywide.
A bit of money to help keep those officers employed, according to a plan floated by Commissioners Steve Novick and Nick Fish, would come from the city's insurance reserves. The one-time funding would let the bureau trim its ranks through retirements and natural attrition.
Although the work over has been largely incremental, the bureau over the past few years, under Chief Mike Reese and former Mayor Sam Adams, has actually put some effort into getting away from merely importing large clumps of white men.
As I reported in 2011, out of some 67 cops hired in 2009 and 2010, only one was African American and none was Latino. And as of 2009, only 33 out of nearly 1,000 cops were black—about half the rate in Portland's overall population, according to census information. Those numbers came in a column pooh-poohing the bureau winning a diversity award based on its early diversity efforts.
But those new figures above? They are a small measure of proof that the police bureau has kept pushing in the right direction. Could the bureau move faster and harder? Undoubtedly. But consider that more than 76 percent of Portlanders are white. That number, among newly hired cops, falls to 72 percent.
Even Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, who called the 2011 award a "joke," acknowledges there's something meaningful in that.
Mayor Charlie Hales' office posted his weekly calendar this afternoon. It's mostly what you'd expect for a mayor two weeks from tipping his hand on the city budget, at his State of the City speech: check-ins with the city budget office and human resources and city commissioners. But one entry, this Wednesday, jumps out.
Hales is going to be sitting down for half an hour with Rosie Sizer, the police chief fired by then-Mayor Sam Adams amid a nasty budget spat in 2010. Sizer was replaced by someone long seen as a rival for the top job, Mike Reese, the current chief, who'd earned a lot of respect in political and downtown circles during his time as Central Precinct commander. Before Sizer moved him to East Precinct.
Hales' spokesman says the mayor personally reached out to Sizer to talk about one of his major agenda items: community policing. Sizer started, at former Mayor Tom Potter's behest, a racial profiling committee. That committee has become the city's current Community and Police Relations Committee, and its come up with a training program on institutional racism that's been given to all of command staff as of December and will soon roll out to the rest of the bureau.
I asked Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, if the call was about something broader—leadership concerns atop the bureau. He says the half-hour meeting was built around a simple pitch to Sizer.
"We're talking about community policing," Haynes says, "and we want your input."
A message left with Reese's spokesman, Sergeant Pete Simpson, seeking comment on the meeting has not yet been returned.
Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman remembers Sizer's racial profiling work, naturally, but not so much her ever using the words "community policing."
That said, "it's not a bad thing for [Hales] to be looking at what it means, what's it going to turn into..."
San Jose Earthquake fans don't yet have a legitimate stadium of their own to trash, so they've apparently taking to messing things up around here.
The Portland Police Bureau is looking for a contingent of Earthquake fans who—while headed to watch their team's defeat yesterday—decided to make a brief pit stop to wreck a Saab.
According to a news release, a 40-year-old Lake Oswegoan named James Decker was en route to yesterday's game in that Saab. But he either forgot or wasn't privy to what is apparently a rule: You don't taunt Earthquake fans on game day.
While waiting at a stop light on West Burnside, Decker spotted a group of rival fans headed to the game. Most of them had their faces obscured ominously by scarves. Decker taunted them anyway, telling police he "held up his Timbers scarf and yelled to the group," the release says.
A woman from the group ran over to try and snatch the scarf and, when Decker attempted to drive off, was knocked over.
From the release: "Decker told police that a group of 10 to 12 males then ran over to his car and jumped on the hood and smashed the windshield. Decker told police that one male punched him through the open car window. Decker told police that someone opened the passenger side door of his car and punched him also."
Police are asking for information on the suspect—the woman who rushed Decker is described as "Hispanic female in her 20s, 5'6" tall, heavy build"—and would love to see any pictures you might have taken.
Nearly four months after a jury awarded $306,000 to a Portland man Tasered, punched, pepper-sprayed, and tackled by police outside an Old Town nightclub back in 2010, the city attorney's office is asking for permission to appeal the finding.
The request, like most of these kinds of things, is tucked into the Portland City Council's consent agenda—meaning, unless some intrepid citizen flags it for review, it's expected to pass unanimously during next Wednesday's meeting—with no discussion.
The Mercury reported on Gallagher Smith's scuffle with police not long after it happened, as part of a story about Taser policies and how they weren't changing. The Oregonian covered Smith's trial and the verdict last December, detailing what happened to him.
Jurors found that police falsely arrested, battered and maliciously prosecuted Gallagher Smith after he quarreled with a doorman on Nov. 13, 2010, at the Aura nightclub on West Burnside Street. The doorman told Smith he'd have to wait at the end of a long line again even though he'd just been in the club and had gotten a stamp on his hand before stepping outside. The doorman eventually flagged down police.
With police bureau layoffs looking very likely this year, Mayor Charlie Hales asked two of his fellow city commissioners to scare up some kind of one-time "bridge" money that would let police commanders trim their ranks through retirements and natural attrition rather than axing the city's least senior cops—who are also likely to be our most diverse cops.
Commissioners Nick Fish and Steve Novick have suggested tapping into the city's insurance reserves to make that possible—one of several controversial suggestions contained in a report (PDF) sent to Hales' office on Monday.
That recommendation is one of several Hales and his staff will consider as they get ready for his State of the City address (in two weeks from tomorrow) and then his proposed budget. Fish and Novick, in all, identified $4.7 million in one-time moeny for next year's budget and ongoing savings of $5.4 million. The city is now looking at a $21.5 million deficit with only as much as $800,000 in one-time money. Traditionally, the council has used millions in one-time money to fund programs that are, essentially, permanent.
The other big recommendations for the reserve cash include commissioning a study to thin the ranks of city management, something Multnomah County has already done, and easing some utility rate hikes.
In addition, the report includes some other potential suggestions for long-term savings above and beyond the 10 percent cuts bureaus were asked to provide. Two stand out:
(1) Cutting the $634,000 the city contributes to the county's Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center, which the Mercury revealed earlier this year has yet to be used by the police bureau. And (2) eliminating the police bureau's air support program, the planes it keeps in a hangar to help do surveillance and monitor protests from on high, for a savings of $155,000.
Hours after Willamette Week broke the story about the suit (PDF), filed Tuesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court (which the Oregonian re-reported without giving a sliver of credit), the bureau released its own copy of the video and accompanying police reports and investigative documents that revealed its internal affairs division didn't have a problem with what it was looking at.
Lieutenant Chris Davis, who's since moved on to the bureau's traffic division, wrote to the complainant, Jason Matthew Cox, and said the video showed him struggling with officers as they tried to handcuff him outside the Pallas Club about 10:20 at night, June 18, 2011. The letter also says the cops, Sarah Kerwin, Robert Bruders, and Jeffrey Elias, were afraid of Cox because he had been drinking and was a veteran.
The video the bureau produced is a longer version of the clip shared by Cox's attorneys, Greg and Jason Kafoury, and posted by other outlets today. Supervisors pulled a copy of it almost immediately after the incident, records show.
The Kafourys, meanwhile, say the video clearly shows Cox and the officers acting relaxed until they tried to handcuff him. Their complaint says the cops, after struggling to bring Cox down, "repeatedly beat him, repeatedly Tased him and then yanked on his left arm and shoulder, all causing injury." The attorneys hadn't seen the internal affairs letter and its description of the video as of this afternoon.
"If you show the video to 12 random people," Jason Kafoury told me (deliberately choosing his words), "they'll think it's egregious and excessive."
A bill filed this month on behalf of two prominent Portland lawyers and police accountability advocates boasts something of a lofty goal in a Legislature that's largely very close to labor interests: It would strip away arbitration appeals for Portland cops disciplined over the use of force—leaving the mayor and police chief as the last word outside the court system.
SB 747 was submitted by Senator Chip Shields, a Democrat representing North and Northeast Portland, on behalf of father-and-son activists Greg and Jason Kafoury. The pair have fashioned a reputation for hard-nosed crusading on police misconduct—winning hundreds of thousands of dollars in judgments and settlements against the police bureau in cases involving force and civil right violations.
The bill is due for a hearing Wednesday in the Senate's general government committee, which Shields runs. It would ban the city, when negotiating contracts with the Portland Police Association and Portland Police Commanding Officers Association, from agreeing to allow binding arbitration in discipline cases that involve the use of force.
"He's very concerned about the city's police bureau and how they handle the use of force," says Amanda Hess, a legislative aide in Shields' office. "He believes the bill needs airing in committee."
It comes nearly a year after arbitrator Jane Wilkinson ordered Portland to reinstate Ron Frashour, the cop fired in 2010 for shooting Aaron Campbell in the back with his AR-15 rifle. Wilkinson found Frashour committed no misconduct. (The bill was first reported by Willamette Week.)
The Oregon Employment Board then slapped the city last fall after it refused to abide by Wilkinson's order—arguing, so far in vain, that the reinstatement runs afoul of "public policy" and violated a largely untested state law written after an arbitrator overturned discipline in a 1993 Portland police shooting. Frashour is back with the bureau, and the city has since filed with the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Someone delightful is posting semi-regular police blotter roundups from Lake Oswego and West Linn. Any more setup than that would be a disservice. Enjoy.
Two suspicious men wearing suits were seen entering a bank on Mercantile Drive. It turned out they were bank employees.
A dispute over garbage can placement has broken out between neighbors.
“DARN DARN” was tagged on fence in the 1600 block of S.E. Oak Street.
A man walking his dog near Trillium Creek School yelled at a woman’s parking job.
“MARRY XMAS” in red spray paint was reported at S.E. Cedar Street and Fifth Avenue.
A woman on Oak Street became suspicious when she discovered a wet footprint on her front porch. It was her own.
And what the shit is going on down on Country Club Road? Goddamned anarchy, it sounds like.
A group of five or six young females, including one with pink hair, was observed talking on Country Club Road.
Tennis balls were sailing at cars going down Country Club Road.
Baseballs were being thrown at cars driving down Country Club Road.
(Tip o' the cap on this one to the also delightful Alex Zielinski)
Prosecutors today released grand jury transcripts in the March 4 police shooting of Santiago Cisneros III—an Iraq war veteran who was being treated, his family says, for post-traumatic stress disorder. And, police, in a press conference, also released new information about the encounter, including dispatch audio as the encounter unfolded and detailed video of the shooting's aftermath.
Police Chief Mike Reese said Cisneros may have followed two officers who'd driven up to the top of a Lloyd District parking garage for a "door to door" chat in a spot often frequented by cops looking for a safe, quite place to write reports and debrief.
He said the two officers, Brad Kula and Michele Boer, immediately split their cars up for a better look at Cisneros' black BMW with Washington plates—with Boer at first noticing Cisneros pull something from his trunk. That something turned out to be a shotgun, and Boer quickly dove from her car and took cover as Cisneros began firing.
Kula got out of his car, too, and both cops hit the ground, firing back and looking for Cisneros' feet through the tiny sliver of air between their cruisers and the pavement. Cisneros seemed to be fixated on Boer, "hunting" for her, Reese said, even as he also took a shot or two at Kula. Cisneros eventually got behind Boer, but he'd run out of ammunition, and after having been shot several times in the legs and lower body, he "deliberately" set down his shotgun and slumped down.
He died maybe an hour or so later, at Legacy Emanuel. It was the coda to a strange encounter, a "firefight, if you will," Reese said, that lasted no more than 45 seconds.
We'll post a more elegant accounting later—including heartbreaking testimony from Cisneros' brother and father about his postwar struggles with mental illness and his family's equal struggle to help him cope and stay well. In the meantime, take a look at the transcripts yourself (here and here).
In this week's Mercury, I led a story about Old Town's nascent "entertainment zone" with a stirring and original metaphor: tow trucks as wolves!
But I was unable to get a hard number, before deadline, on just how many cars were towed from the district. I now have that number: 315.
That's 315 bewildered and enraged oaths to heaven by folks who didn't notice the area was a tow-away zone from 10 pm to 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays. In February, tow trucks were legion, snaking through barricades and absconding with nearly 50 cars some weekends.
That activity was worrisome to some of the neighborhood's bars, which feared the enforcement would alienate customers. It was also, apparently, largely the result of hard-to-notice signage. In March, the district was lined with sandwich boards announcing the closures, after which towing tapered off.
It's unclear right now how much money the city recouped from the tows. The Portland Bureau of Transportation spent almost $30,000 over the course of the pilot project on parking enforcement and street closures.
Here's the info the Portland Police Bureau sent along this morning:
It's been three months since the city started closing the oft-chaotic corridors of Old Town's "entertainment district" on weekend nights.
Now—with the pilot phase set to end and a planned visit from Mayor Charlie Hales this weekend—the Portland Police Bureau is claiming success.
In a report [PDF] obtained by the Mercury, police say they've fielded more calls in the district (see map below), but ultimately dealt with less crime.
Compared to the first eight weeks of 2012, police saw about 31 percent more demand at times streets are now closed (between 10 pm and 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays), the report says. But cops actually chronicled around 30 percent less violations.
The reason, police suggest: Higher officer visibility.
"One officer described how she could see position [sic] herself in the middle of the street, see the entire area and intervene more quickly before volatile situations got out of control," the report says. "Officers also reported taking fewer calls regarding crimes and felt they were better able to exert control over the area by their mere presence (being highly visible and active as opposed to driving through the area or being lost in a crowded sidewalk)."
Assaults, disorderly conducts charges, larcenies and vandalism are all down, according to the report. Drunk driving and liquor law violations have seen upticks. There have been two robberies in the "entertainment district" during this year's closures.
The police department concedes its findings don't constitute scientific proof the model has worked—dealing, as they do, with a very small period of time—but notes "the numbers involved are consistent with the anecdotal experiences relayed by officers working in the area."
If you've been in this area on weekends, you know it hasn't yet blossomed as an "entertainment district" in the vein of the nearby stretch of SW Ankeny now permanently used as outside seating. Despite the road closures, bar patrons still largely stick to the sidewalk and even use crosswalks.
Bar owners and managers in the district have expressed cautious optimism, but tell the Mercury more needs to be done. Some hope, for instance, street seating or food carts might make their way into the zone if the project continues.
That's an "if" that might be settled in the near future. The 90-day pilot ends Saturday, the same night Hales plans to visit the district.
Police, by the way, say the closures don't require extra spending on their end, but the city does contract with a company to close the roads—a cost which could seem ripe for culling in a time of tough budget calls.
Mayor Charlie Hales today explained his office's decision, reported yesterday, to hold the city's upcoming bargaining talks with the Portland Police Association partly behind closed doors.
In an interview with the Mercury, he said he'd prefer to have all the talks be public, on city property. But with mediation on the Department of Justice settlement and the city's budget crisis both bearing down at the same time, there wasn't time to draw any proverbial lines in the sand.
Instead, the city is sticking with a compromise much like the one it reached with the PPA in 2010, before both sides falsely declared, after a couple of sessions, in a story reported by the Mercury, that all meetings would be open. The mayor has also promised to allow "community review" of the contract after it's negotiated and before it's approved by the Portland City Council.
"I'm less concerned with how the negotiations look and more concerned about the outcome," Hales says. "What matters is the agreement produced and does that agreement pass the acid test of a bureau that's credible with the public and is spending its money wisely and where we have a good work environment for our officers."
Hales, at a forum last year, had decried the secret negotiations after candidates were asked about the Mercury's story. The compromise, in light of those comments, is notable.
Today, he said his preference would still be talks conducted "in a glass cube, with mics on, and in the light of day." But with a "perfect storm" of conflicts looming—including changes related to the DOJ settlement, touchy discussions over subjects like overtime and layoffs, and the backdrop of pension reform plotting in Salem, he didn't want to fight it out with the PPA over ground rules.
His comments last year, he also argued, were more about the city breaking a promise. He says he's not willing to do that.
"I'd rather people know that right up front," he said, "and not deceive people by saying, 'They're all open,' and have people actually meeting in a bar to work it out. Let's not play games with the public."
PPA President Daryl Turner, when asked for comment on the arrangement, said, at first, "That's what they say. We haven't really talked about it amongst ourselves and decided what we're going to do." He also said he hadn't spoken personally with the mayor yet about contract talks.
Perhaps bending to reality over rhetoric, the city of Portland's labor negotiations with the Portland Police Association will be only partly public, the Mercury has learned—with some bargaining meetings held on city property and the rest held either at the union's headquarters in Northwest or some other private locale.
The compromise was confirmed by David Rhys, deputy director of the Bureau of Human Resources, and also by Baruti Artharee, Mayor Charlie Hales' director of public safety. Other sources in recent days had been describing a similar arrangement.
"The PPA negotiations are split between public facilities, which we would [send notices for] and are open to the public, and meetings held at the PPA union hall," says Rhys. "That is a private facility and those meetings aren't open to the public."
This was a major issue in 2010 when the PPA's contract was last up for renegotiation. After then-Mayor Sam Adams insisted on opening the meetings, talks stalled for months until a compromise just like the one in place for this round of talks was hammered out. Half the meetings would be public, with the other half private.
There was some further drama last time, after PPA President Daryl Turner and former HR director Yvonne Deckard announced, after the first few public sessions, that all future meetings would be public. But as the Mercury reported in 2011, via a public records request, that turned out to be political theater.
Talks eventually headed into private mediation after a few months. And, before then, much of the contract was hashed out in private meetings at nearby hotels and at union HQ and also over the phone and via email.
The city's rationale is unclear. But when Mayor Charlie Hales was asked about the Mercury report at a candidates forum held last March by the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform, his answer in support of fully opening the talks was very clear (albeit he was referring to a commitment the previous administration had made and then broken):
"The reason is not just that it's your money, it's that these issues are very important at a policy level as well," he said. "It's sad that commitment was made but not kept. We need to restore the credibility of this office."
I'll have updates from the mayor's office and, hopefully, Turner. So stay tuned.
The comments came before Hales reluctantly gave his assent to the report, notwithstanding his concerns, saying it fulfilled the technical requirements laid down by the city two years ago.
"I am very skeptical of the process of entanglement of our police bureau, which should be focused on peacekeeping in the community, with the work the FBI does in addressing global terrorism," Hales said, promising to weigh not only the report but also "larger questions" on whether working with the JTTF is "wise, good public policy, and cost-effective for the police bureau."
In a moment of modest intrigue, Hales found himself the deciding vote after Commissioners Amanda Fritz (silenced last year while asking questions) and Steve Novick both emphatically voted to say no. Hales, for he record, actually cast the first vote against the JTTF more than a decade ago, when he was a city commissioner.
The document is mostly built on Reese's personal assurances that our cops haven't been asked to violate Oregon's strict civil rights laws during the course of their case-by-case work with the feds. It details only the number of investigations our cops helped with ("at least" one this year, outside of Portland) and gives no details about the nature of those investigations or how many officers or hours the police bureau spent on them.
Both Novick and Fritz found those omissions troubling. They also weren't necessarily buying the chief's blanket assertion that giving those details would jeopardize terrorism cases.
Stephanie Harper, a deputy city attorney who helped guide Portland officials through several contentious labor battles with the Portland Police Association—including ongoing Department of Justice reforms, contract negotiations, and the fallout from the 2010 Aaron Campbell shooting—has left the city for a job with Portland Public Schools, the Mercury has learned.
The city attorney's office wouldn't say much about Harper's departure, other than to note that it came a couple of weeks ago and that they expect to hire someone to take over her police bureau portfolio in the next month. Attorneys David Woboril and Ellen Osoinach, both of whom have spent years advising the police bureau on training and policy issues, are helping out in the meantime, the office also says.
"We've got it covered," a staffer told me.
The timing, however, is less than ideal. Mediation over the DOJ reforms, involving the city, the union, and the Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition for Justice and Police Reform is in the wings. Harper had been appearing in federal court on the city's behalf.
Complications involving the DOJ settlement and changes to the bureau's use of force and Taser policies also have sparked a legal fight between the city and PPA over contract talks expected to start up this spring. Harper in February wrote the legal memo that persuaded city commissioners to haul the PPA in front of a state board to iron out the issue. She'd been point of contact in dealing with PPA counsel Anil Karia on DOJ issues.
Harper also helped the city argue some losing arbitration cases against the PPA, including the attempted dismissal of the cop who shot and killed Aaron Campbell, Ron Frashour, and now-overturned suspensions for two cops, Kyle Nice and Christopher Humphreys, rapped for failing to insist on medical care for James Chasse Jr.
Observers in city hall have long muttered about the city's track record against the PPA. But sources tell the Mercury that Harper's departure wasn't forced. She joins two other city labor officials in working for PPS: former human resources director Yvonne Deckard, and former police bureau human resources manager Sean Murray.
Good news from ABC's Nightline, everybody.
Portland police are hard at work tracking down your stolen goods on Craigslist. They're also maybe our city's greatest collective of MC Hammer fans. Just a ragtag bunch of misfit cops, ferreting out fenced goods and jittering side to side in
baggy parachute pants.
We apologize for not telling this story years ago.
Thanks, Alex, for the tip.
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