People's Police Report Updates May 2005 (Issue #35)

Sit/Lie Opens Door to Selective Enforcement

In what some consider Mayor Vera Katz's farewell gift to the Portland Business Alliance, on December 15, 2004 the Portland City Council unanimously passed, on an emergency basis, the Obstructions as Nuisances Ordinance, which is more commonly referred to as the Sit-Lie Ordinance (see PPR #31).

The City Council maintains this Ordinance was the result of many months of meetings by representatives of business, neighborhoods, the homeless community, and law enforcement officials. However, it appears to be classist and directed at a specific population of the community, mainly the poor and the homeless who do not have the options that are open to the more affluent when it comes to needing a place to sit and rest. The end result may be the criminalization of poverty and homelessness.

The Ordinance, which has an eighteen month sunset clause, covers the area bounded by the Willamette River, Interstate 5 and Interstate 405. It prohibits sitting, kneeling or creating a trip hazard or obstruction in the through pedestrian zone of a sidewalk, on any part of the sidewalks on the bus mall, on any part of the same sidewalk as a MAX stop, or creating a trip hazard or obstruction between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. on any frontage or furnishing zone. The Ordinance also provides that a violation exists if a stationary group of three or more persons stand in a through pedestrian zone. A through pedestrian zone of a sidewalk is defined as consisting of eight feet on a fifteen foot wide sidewalk, six feet on a twelve foot wide sidewalk and five feet wide on a local service walkway.

[Challenging Sit/Lie in 
In other definitions which might well be described as convoluted and require the use of various measuring devices, the Ordinance mentions specifics. One defines a trip hazard being a thing or animal that extends to or occupies space more than a half-inch above a sidewalk surface or an object that is "within two feet of a person who is capable of moving or controlling the object to accommodate the needs of other sidewalk users." Two of the definitions state that "legs extended from a seated person are a trip hazard, but a person who sits or kneels with legs drawn up to the body does not constitute a trip hazard."

The City should soon be producing statistics as to how many warnings and violations of the Ordinance have been issued and to whom they have been issued. The concern is that those who are poor and who have few, if any options of places to sit, lie or stand, will be cited under this Ordinance and the more affluent will not. It is not hard to visualize that four or five people standing in front of the Portland Center for the Performing Arts after attending a play will not be said to be in violation of the Ordinance whereas four or five homeless youths will be. One City Commissioner discussed the Ordinance in terms of "moving them along." The question must be asked, "To where?" A City staffer indicated there were sufficient benches in the specified area for everyone to be able to sit. That seems quite unlikely given the large homeless population in Portland--according to a January 26 census by local advocacy groups, at least 2355 people were on the streets that night, mostly in the central city.

Commissioner Erik Sten has stated he is confident that safeguards are in place to ensure that the Ordinance is not used to restrict the right of anyone to enjoy downtown streets. His Chief of Staff, Bob Durston, has stated that if problems do arise during the course of this pilot project they will not wait 18 months to fix them and they will monitor the enforcement issues as they arise with input from a broad cross section of the community. The City needs to be held to that. While Durston and Sten stress that there has been and will be input from representatives of the homeless community, a question arises regarding the impact of their influence versus that of the business community and law enforcement. A community must be based on the human and civil rights of all who live in that community.

Some concern has been raised as to whether this Ordinance will be used against activists who might assemble in the downtown area. The Ordinance does specify that it "doesn't apply to a person who is part of an assembly that has formed to participate in or observe an expressive event if such assembly lasts less than eight hours unless the person refuses to comply with a reasonable order to move so as to moderate the impact of the assembly on passage along the through pedestrian zone." This language is open to broad interpretation and the application of the Ordinance to such assemblies remains to be seen.

According to Commissioner Sam Adams' office, as of April 20 there had only been two arrests under the new ordinance--one on March 23 and one on March 30. No statistics seem to be available about how many people are warned, or what their age, gender, race or housing status may be. More significantly, the police will not receive special training about "Sit/Lie," until sometime in May.

Eugene Finds Lack of Cop Oversight

[Magana on KVAL-
An external review of the Eugene Police Department (EPD) found that lack of supervision and failure to fully investigate allegations contributed to the criminal activity of two officers convicted of sexual abuse. Officer Roger Magaņa was sentenced to 94 years in prison for on-duty incidents of rape and other crimes (see PPR #33); Juan Lara was sentenced to 68 months for coercing women into sexual contact, also on duty (PPR #32).

The report, by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) noted that Magaņa was hired on a fast track to increase diversity on the force, but was not given a background check or psychiatric exam. As a result, his 1982 arrest for burglary and other criminal records were not brought to light, with his file "mysteriously reappearing" after the sex abuse charges were imposed.

The report also blamed supervisors, who failed to correct substandard work or perform employee evaluations, and an "incomplete, illogical and inadequate" internal affairs process for many problems. The report noted a "widespread desire" for creating an external police review board, but cautioned that it would need proper funding to build public trust (Eugene Weekly, March 17).

PDX Mayor Potter Hits Critical Mass --BMX Style

[Critical Mass 
Critical Mass, while defined by some as "the smallest mass of a fissionable material that will sustain a nuclear chain reaction at a constant level," is also the name for an unstructured, non-hierarchical coming together of bicycles in the streets, a movement occurring locally on the last Friday of every month in the North Park Blocks at 5:30 P.M.

Portland's Mayor Tom Potter, who is also Commissioner for the Police Bureau, attended the January Critical Mass ride, one of the first in recent years in which the police backed off and did not aggressively ticket participants (see PPR #28). Potter "is a proponent of both bicycling and alternative forms of mass transportation," according to John Doussard, the Mayor's Director of Communications, adding that he "does not condone anyone disobeying Portland's traffic laws."

Doussard said Mayor Potter rode in Critical Mass for two reasons--first, he "feels supporting [alternative transportation] is an important message to send to our community." The other reason: "He wanted to see for himself the dynamics of the evening's ride, and witness the interaction between bicyclists and police officers without the filter of the media or those parties on either side of the debate with their own agendas."

"The Mayor rode for an hour with the bicyclists, and then for an hour with police officers [in a squad car]. He took no preconceived notions into the evening -- he had read what has been written in both the mainstream and alternative media, and wanted to experience the ride for himself. He enjoyed talking to both the bicyclists and the officers, and felt he heard their concerns and learned about their perspectives."

When asked about the different levels of police presence at the rides before, during, and after the Mayor rode, Mr. Doussard replied, "It would be difficult to say if the police presence was 'high.'There were about 150 or so riders, they were in both lanes of traffic and the ride was at night when visibility is poor. So the number of officers may have been appropriate to ensure safety of both the riders and traffic."

Since January, according to posts on Portland's Indymedia (such as, police presence has gone back up, but officers are mostly on bicycles, not on motorcycles or in cars. This minor victory is being attributed to the difference between Potter and his predecessor, Vera Katz. For its part, the local mainstream press reacted varyingly to Potter's decision to ride. Some called the move "puzzling," wondering why the Mayor wasn't solving traffic issues "by working on policies and city ordinances and other boring stuff" (Oregonian, February 2), while others praised him for "making an effort to listen to ignored views" (Mercury, February 10).

The Mayor's office chose not to answer any questions about the differences in the Portland events from those in New York, where officials have filed lawsuits against those they feel organize and promote Critical Mass events. Time's Up!, a non-profit charged with breaking regulations by not applying for a permit, calls the city's charges "ridiculous, selective enforcement" ( During the Republican National Convention in New York, 264 people were arrested one night at Critical Mass. According to, a movie documenting the Critical Mass movement is scheduled for release in May.

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