PERCEPTIONS AND REALITY IN DOWNTOWN PORTLAND
Concerned about "public perception," Mayor Potter, the Portland Police Bureau, volunteer patrols, and the business community are taking various measures to ensure that people can live and/or spend their money in the downtown area without having to look at, be bothered by, or step over those who are different, poor or homeless.
Cloaking it as a safety issue, in October Mayor Potter called for a curfew of 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. in the South Park Blocks and "gave the police encouragement and permission to go after aggressive panhandlers, prostitutes, drug dealers and packs of young people who congregate in the South Park Blocks and other areas of downtown" (Oregonian, October 12).
While article after article in various area newspapers refer to perceptions of nonsafety, the same articles all report that statistics show a decrease in crime in the downtown area. There are, of course, specific laws which can be enforced if people are committing crimes. However, this process seems to encourage police to move along anyone who looks or seems differentlikely the poor, people of color, unconventionally dressed youth or homeless people. This was graphically illustrated in a recent "holiday plan" reported by the Portland Tribune, which referred to a police memo stating they will "carry out a plan of selective enforcement and aggressive hospitality" (November 25). There was a further reference to two uniformed cops walking around Pioneer Courthouse Square "getting up close and personal with transients, panhandlers and others from the fringe of our society who are inclined to intimidate people." While the paper should be given credit for being so candid about the lack of subtlety and nuance in this policy, serious questions need to be raised about the police definition of "\i>selective enforcement" and "the fringe of society." In a further effort to make shoppers feel more safe and secure, the article featured a front page picture of two officers taking down a suspect with third cop standing by. In an Oregonian article referring similarly to "holiday peace," it was noted that there are about 30 volunteer Reserve Officers patrolling in downtown and on NW 23rd Avenue (November 26). These Reserve Officers have gone through training, wear police uniforms and carry handguns and handcuffs.
An article in the November 1 street roots refers to the new police presence as the Street Disorder Team (it is not clear if they are responding to or creating disorder) and quotes Monica Beemer, executive director of Sisters of the Road, referring to "a document circulated among the Public Safety Action Committee from the PPB. The document lists, along with illegal activities, 'transients seeking daily services' in the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood as a public safety issue." As one of the services in this area consists of food programs, it would seem the police now consider a hungry person obtaining a meal as engaging in illegal activity.
While the December, 2004 Sit/Lie Ordinance has not been used to any great extent, the police have been handing out warnings, again to those perceived as the focus of the Ordinance. We have been unable to obtain statistics regarding those who are receiving the warnings. It would seem that these warnings are being used to move people along so that they are no longer a perceived disturbing presence in the downtown area (also see Drug Free Zone article).
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