Quick Flashes 42

Will the Real Cop Please Stand Up?

The May 3 Portland Mercury featured side by side pictures of a downtown private security officer and a Portland Police Bureau officer. It is difficult to tell which was which because the uniforms are similar, some of the same duties are shared and many of the rent-a-cops carry guns. The similarity ends there as Portland Patrol, Inc. (PPI) is "accountable to one person, and he refuses to answer questions." PPI chief executive John Hren refused to talk to the Mercury about his conflict of interest in investigating complaints against his own company.

Serious concerns have been raised about the lack of oversight of the members of the PPI, which has a contract with the Portland Business Alliance (PBA). The Mercury stated that approximately 17 armed and 13 unarmed PPI officers work the downtown area and are charged with solving "order maintenance problems."

PPI officers are given temporary work permits while the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) can take months to process applicants' background checks. In one case, an individual worked as an unarmed officer for five months before he was disqualified for having a criminal history.

It is the poor and the homeless in the downtown area who are most subject to the actions of the PPI officers. One provision in the contract states the officers are obliged to "wake up all individuals who use the sidewalk, and business doorways, as sleeping locations" (Mercury, May 31). This is of grave concern to Israel Bayer, director of the homeless community newspaper street roots.

The contract between PBA and PPI was secret until City Commissioner Randy Leonard obtained a copy through the city attorney's office. Street roots has a copy to share with the community, and is involving others in a discussion of the training of the PPI officers, the constitutionality of the contract provisions, and citizen oversight. Bayer and other homeless advocates are working to create a reporting system to file complaints regarding the actions of the privatized officers (street roots, June 1).

The contract indicates that PPI is being paid more than $1.5 million per year by the PBA to provide the rent-a cops (Mercury, May 31). Although this is a bit cheaper than hiring actual police officers, the lack of oversight and accountability is of major concern.

Pepper Spray and Crowd Control

On May Day, 2007, the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center released "Whose Streets?", a report calling into question the Portland Police Bureau's brutal crowd control tactics, in particular at the "World Can't Wait" protest last October (PPR #40). Their recommendations include that police shall not use pepper spray,"less-lethal" munitions or horses, nor photograph or videotape demonstrators at First Amendment assemblies.

They also call for the Bureau to "respond to unforeseen demonstrations that take place on sidewalks, streets or in public parks in the same manner as events that have been coordinated with the Bureau beforehand."

Sadly, shortly after the report was released, Chief Sizer announced a "pilot project" in which the Bureau will be testing a new pepper spray that is four times stronger than what they currently use. The cops claim the current spray takes too long to take effect and only works 60% of the time (Oregonian, May 22).

PPB Sits Out Immigration Raid

Though the rabid anti-immigrant crowd and some local media have loudly criticized Mayor Tom Potter for questioning the federal government's round-up of undocumented workers at a Portland Del Monte plant in June, Potter rightly noted that state law (181.850) prohibits local cops from enforcing immigration law, especially when no other laws have been violated. The PPB didn't assist.

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