People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Two of three Multnomah County Circuit judges ruling on Portland's Sit/Lie ordinance have now declared the law unconstitutional. Judge Terry Hannon upheld Sit/Lie in November, but Judge Michael McShane found part of the law too vague in February (PPR #47). Multnomah County Circuit Judge Stephen Bushong issued a June 23 opinion that the City's sidewalk obstruction ordinance (Sit/Lie) conflicts with state law, which trumps city law. Two days later, Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer issued a directive stating that due to this ruling, the Bureau would immediately suspend enforcement of Sit/Lie but that "Persons on the sidewalk who intentionally or recklessly create a risk of public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm by obstructing the sidewalk may be cited for Disorderly Conduct." In determining whether to pursue this law, an officer should note: "Whether the subject had previously engaged in similar obstructive conduct [or] had been previously warned of the risks of public inconvenience that the conduct entails; a detailed illustration or description of the subject's location on the sidewalk; and whether any witnesses observed the subject engaged in obstructive conduct." Rather than enforce the disorderly conduct law, in late July, Portland Police began "strict order maintenance enforcement," meaning they'll make arrests for any criminal offense, even low-level ones such as littering" (Oregonian, August 6).
After the City asked Bushong to clarify his ruling, he explained that his only role was to rule on the cases before him, not to help the City rewrite its laws. He added that "the ordinance might, in theory, be unconstituional on several other grounds in addition to the one he ruled on" ( Mercury Blog, August 14). Defense Attorney Clayton Lance, who litigated the case, said afterward that "The city will never, ever get this type of ordinance to pass constitutional muster."
The suspension of the Sit/Lie ordinance was a relief to many in the community, coming just weeks after City Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish called for a five month extension of the law's June sunset date. In early May, the Council approved the extension 4-1, with Randy Leonard dissenting. Fritz and Fish decided that more process was warranted and set up two public meetings. The first meeting, held July 18 in North Portland, drew approximately 70 people. According to the July 19 Oregonian, "business owners worry that the rising numbers of homeless harass and scare shoppers. The homeless and their advocates say they have no place to go. ... Among the needs raised were more restrooms, with regular hours and cleaning; shelters throughout the city; and services for special groups, such as veterans, the transgendered and couples."
The second meeting, with an overflow crowd, was held July 21 at downtown's First Unitarian Church. Because it was a weeknight, many homeless people had to choose between going to the meeting or lining up for a meal and the chance of shelter for the night.
At the meeting, Commissioner Fish spoke about the new Housing Bureau receiving a 30% budget increase in the recently completed budget cycle. In October, ground will be broken for the new Resource Access Center where all services will be combined in one building. Fish also indicated that "we are making steady progress" in the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness.
Mike Kuykendall, Vice President of the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) spoke about "what is exciting about SAFE... the business community is stepping up with the homeless and that this has been a marvelous experience for me." He didn't mention how "marvelous" it had been for the homeless. He further stated that before developing SAFE (Street Access for Everyone), the five point plan that includes Sit/Lie, there had been no place for people to go during the day, that there was a critical need for shelters, more benches and more restrooms. In one of the more disingenuous comments of the evening, Kuykendall stated that the Sit/Lie ordinance was developed as "some kind of a tool, a non criminal way [to deal with the issue]" so as not to arrest people for the misdemeanor crime of disorderly conduct. This echoed the inane comment uttered by Commissioner Fish to the Oregonian following the release of Chief Sizer's memo: "Be careful what you wish for." Saying it is a choice between a violation and a misdemeanor is akin to asking a person if they would like to be hit over the head with a baseball bat or with a brick, when the person doesn't want to be hit at all. The question is, why should police be allowed to make people move from the sidewalk when they are not engaged in any criminal activity? It seems unbelievable that these individuals assume they are being so humane by having homeless people merely cited and not arrested for the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Brendan Phillips of Sisters of the Road asked the longstanding question: why weren't services (day centers, benches, toilets, etc.) put into place before the Sit/Lie Ordinance was enacted? This cart before the horse process has resulted in homeless people being told to move along even though many of the alleged services were not there. Other comments indicated there are not enough restrooms, and the hours are sporadic. Some participants in the forum felt that many of the problems are caused by "street kids," and suggested an ordinance addressing "aggressive" panhandling. Others reported that security guards and two police officers who are paid for by the PBA have been less than helpful to homeless people and that the guards have brutalized people sleeping under bridges. One participant noted that he had been kicked by a rent-a-cop while in his sleeping bag. Other issues discussed included the need for more health services, and the realization that homelessness also exists on the East Side, so services should be provided there as well.
On August 18, Mayor Adams' Chief of Staff told the Mercury blog they were working to enact a new law quickly, but refused to speculate whether it would be found unconstitutional.
Contact Sisters of the Road at 503-222-5694.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.