People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Updates PPR #50 May 2010
"Sharing Public Sidewalks" Leads to Thinly Veiled New Sit/Lie Law
In late March, the City unveiled its plan for a new "Sidewalk Management Ordinance," which on its face calls for pedestrians to leave room for people with disabilities on all sidewalks downtown and in the Lloyd District, but underneath is just another version of the discredited "Sit/Lie" ordinance (PPR #48).
As reported in PPR #49, Commissioner Amanda Fritz invited Portland Copwatch (PCW) to serve on the city's Sidewalk Management Plan oversight committee, but we declined, indicating we would instead attend the meetings as observers. At the first meeting on January 4, we learned there would be at least 50 members of what became an advisory committee and that this would be considered "a fluid committee," focusing on concerns about the sharing of sidewalks. It was stated that this forum would "be for discourse, not debate." The committee members include representatives from agencies which advocate for poor and homeless people, various businesses, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB), the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, the Portland Housing Bureau, and the offices of city commissioners.
Despite this committee being formed in response to the October, 2009 Sidewalk Management Plan Resolution, there has been little mention of the Resolution at the meetings. The members were broken up into small groups. Discussions included suggestions as to who else should be invited to be on the committee and "societal morality." Much of the focus was on which specific problems and behaviors need to be addressed and it was pointed out that most of the problems were caused by only a few people. Others noted that sitting on a sidewalk is a right, especially when an individual has no other place to go. In discussing the issue of "aggressive panhandlers" several members mentioned that Greenpeace and other groups who stop pedestrians are more intrusive. Andrea Meyer of the ACLU pointed out that panhandling is a lawful activity, and therefore "aggression" and "panhandling" should not be linked. Representatives of the business and tourist community were concerned regarding the effect on customers and visitors of having homeless people on the sidewalks.
Commissioner Fritz ended the first meeting indicating she would be meeting with Chief Sizer regarding mental health issues, that no new sit/lie ordinance was being proposed, though Mayor Adams was dealing with the issues of newspaper boxes and outdoor cafés.
The agendas of the February and March meetings mainly involved reports from staff, the PPB and the City Attorney's office. In February, Central Precinct Commander Dave Famous reported on a police "mission" under the Burnside Bridge. He stated that 50 to 100 people were sleeping under the bridge and PPB had received 313 complaints in 60 days from area businesses and residents, as well as "people on MAX," regarding fighting, urination, drinking, drugs, garbage, weapons, rodents and dangerous conditions. The area was posted for no camping on January 21, and on the 22nd "Central responded." Famous and Officer Mark Friedman reported there was one arrest for marijuana use, ten bags of personal belongings were taken to storage, and 78 bags of garbage containing such items as needles and food containers were collected. One witness indicated that there were three pregnant women present at the time who were left out in the rain with nowhere to go. Officer Friedman claimed they had taken one of these women to a "police bed," at the West Women's Shelter. PCW raised concerns about Famous describing the sweep as a "mission," and about the belongings of those swept being destroyed.
At the March meeting, two Office of Neighborhood Involvement staffers gave an update on the Alcohol Impact Area issue (see Quick Flashes).
The Sharing Public Sidewalks Advisory Committee discussed the draft "Sidewalk Management Ordinance" at their April 5 meeting. People expressed some concerns in a limited time frame, but were told this was not their only chance. A public hearing before the City Council will be held on April 29 at 3 PM (after our deadline), which will allow for more input from the Committee and from the public before the ordinance is voted on.
The ordinance requires the City Engineer to post sidewalk use rules in high pedestrian traffic areas with a telephone number "that citizens may use to report violations." The reports will most likely focus on those who are homeless instead of a concern about newspaper boxes or restaurant patrons impeding pedestrian traffic. The ordinance also directs the PPB to conduct "missions" using plain- clothes and uniformed officers to "identify criminal acts on sidewalks" including littering. Besides the offensive use of the word "mission," this activity smacks of a police state and is a concern PCW has pointed out previously to city officials (PPR #49).
The "Sharing Public Sidewalks Advisory Committee" meets first Mondays at 3:30 PM in the
Portland Building. For more info, contact Sisters of the Road at 503-222-5694.
While the federal lawsuit filed by the Oregon Law Center on behalf of persons cited for camping in Portland is still pending (PPR #48), negotiations have been ongoing regarding this issue. City Council nearly passed a set of guidelines as an out-of-court agreement in early January, but pulled the item from the agenda at the last minute. At the February 1 meeting of the Sharing Public Sidewalks Advisory Committee, Assistant City Attorney Dave Woboril said Commissioner Nick Fish is leading the City on camping guidelines. At the March meeting of the Committee, Daniel Ledezma from Fish's office handed out a draft of the Homeless Camping Guidelines. She stressed that these may change and evolve throughout the process.
The guidelines state that the City will not enforce its camping law against persons who camp on public property or public rights of way that are open to the public if they comply with eight rules regarding camp size (less than 4 people), proximity to other camps, time restrictions (after 9 PM, quiet ater 10 PM, cleaned up by 7 AM), cleanliness, and location (not in roadways).
The guidelines further specify that the City will not enforce its prohibition against structures on public property as long as occupants comply with the above rules and there are no more than two sleeping structures at a site. The City will not enforce the camping law against those sleeping in vehicles who comply with the rules, and consist of no more than two adults.
The City proposes to conduct a pilot project regarding the issue of the storage of the belongings of homeless people living on the street. This has long been a problem in that Portland Police are mostly inclined to gather up all the belongings of a homeless person, and throw them in the trash regardless that this might constitute all of their worldly goods.
In February, a number of business groups and neighborhood associations sent a letter to Commissioner Fish indicating that they support the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. However, they added, "while we believe that the city can and should do more to address issues relating to homelessness, we do not believe the city is required to solve the issue of homelessness before it can enforce reasonable restrictions on time, place and manner of the use of public spaces for the purpose of camping. ... We do not support a negotiated settlement that unnecessarily diminishes the city's authority to manage its public spaces." Although they were "intrigued" by the possibility of churches allowing camping on their properties, they go on to state their belief that there should be no camping on sidewalks, parks, or public lands.
Espousing a more humane attitude, Sisters of the Road has set up meetings with various advocates and homeless people to discuss the issue. In a written statement, they call for an immediate end to the sweeps by Portland Police on campers until the guidelines have been established, more 24 hour restrooms, and the establishment of strong protocols for the confiscation of property from homeless people.
Fish has stated that the new rules may be incorporated into police directives instead of law. Not a
great idea, since police are often not held accountable to their own rules. Commissioners Fish and
Saltzman will appoint a work group to assess the success of the guidelines.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.