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Sit/Lie 4.0: Pitting People With Disabilities Against Those Without HomesDespite a great deal of testimony against the latest version of Sit/Lie, on May 7, the Portland City Council voted 4-0 to enact a new ordinance. This time, their fourth go-around, they framed the law around the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in an apparent effort to appear humane. One council member stated they were "inspired" by the ADA. Various individuals with disabilities testified before council that this ordinance was not needed and that they did not want the needs of the disabled to be pitted against the needs of the homeless. Basically, the ordinance provides that persons can stand or sit on the outer edge of sidewalks so there is at least a 6 to 8 foot wide throughway in front of buildings. It also includes rules regarding where a person's belongings can be located on the sidewalk, as well as control of dogs--whose necks must be within two feet of a person who is accompanying them. The ordinance is in effect in the downtown, Lloyd Center and Rose Quarter areas. It apparently does not apply to sidewalk cafes, "A-boards," newspaper boxes, and other obstructions for people with disabilities--enforcement mostly targets homeless people. The "humane" aspect of the ordinance doesn't apply to those who need to be under an overhang during pouring rain, or when temperatures are high. The Council removed an exemption for three or more people to be in a high pedestrian zone if they are exercising their First Amendment rights. One council member indicated there is an exemption for a person who is having a heart attack in the zone. (The exemption is actually for any medical emergency.)
Commissioner Amanda Fritz's Sidewalk Management Plan advisory group continues to meet monthly. At the May meeting, the ordinance's proposed use of uniformed and plain clothes officers was one of the main issues. Assistant City Attorney David Woboril pointed out that plain clothes officers were already on the street to deal with crimes. Several people, including a member of the Oregon ACLU and a member of Portland Copwatch (PCW) stated that this provision should not be in this ordinance. In a later City Council meeting, Commissioner Fritz indicated she found the arguments "compelling," so this wording was removed. However, even without the ordinance, officers in plain clothes still prowl the streets looking for people to arrest or cite. Former Central Precinct Commander Dave Famous continued to describe police enforcement of the ordinance as "missions" (PPR #50). It is unclear if this is in the religious or military sense. In one meeting, Commander Famous and one of his officers were asked how the ordinance would be implemented when the police encountered a person with obvious mental or developmental disabilities. The response was that these individuals would be "transitioned to evaluation and Project Respond would be contacted, or the person taken to an ER." Recent developments in Portland have shown how well that has worked.
Verbal warnings are to be given for the first six months of the ordinance. New Central Precinct Commander Vince Jarmer reported that during the period June 30 to July 6, nine written warnings had been issued. Three of those led to arrests for other reasons. One arrestee, Timothy Loren Shatzel, is challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance. The officer reported Shatzel was initially given a verbal warning, but after 10 to 15 minutes there was "no compliance so he was given a written warning." Shatzel was arrested for interfering with a police officer, and held for roughly two weeks in jail. One member of the advisory committee reported she had witnessed this event and that a total of eight police officers and three security guards were involved. An interesting use of resources! According to the precinct officer, there was no pattern and no one spot in which people had been given the warnings.
At the July meeting, an individual from the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) spoke about private security guards. Pursuant to a 1995 law (ORS 181.878), DPSST trains and certifies security guards. He stated initially that the training is 12 hours long and that the certifications are in effect for two years. Later, he clarified that there are actually only eight hours of training and the other four hours are to "assess what they have learned." The training consists of how to observe and report illegal activity to law enforcement, how to effect citizen arrests ("same as any private citizen"), patrol procedures, and report writing. There is also a criminal background check. When asked about private security guards carrying guns, the speaker only responded that "any private citizen can carry a gun and that the security guards have the same authority as citizens." Try wearing a uniform and badge and gun and see how true that is. The issues of accountability and oversight weren't specifically dealt with, but the attendees broke into small groups and their written concerns will be compiled and heard by the group.
As reported in PPR #50, PCW was asked by Commissioner Fritz to be on this committee, but we declined, indicating we would instead attend the meetings as observers. Our regular attendee, Regina Hannon, missed the July meeting but emailed Fritz with comments about harassment and brutality of homeless people by private security guards. Fritz declined to forward the comments to the committee, writing: "You are welcome to participate, or to observe, however asking to have your comments included while continuing to reject inclusion as a member of the committee committed to respectful discussion seems inconsistent." Apparently, raising concerns about how her "friends who live outside" are treated is not considered "respectful discussion."
At the end of the July meeting, Commissioner Fritz stated she made "an executive decision that a Clean and Safe [dowtntown guide] can give the person information about moving for compliance rather than escalating by calling the police." Fritz still has not answered a question about what would happen if the person then refused to move.
Commissioner Fritz set a "Sidewalk Use Ordinance Town Hall" for August 17 at the First Unitarian Church. This "Town Hall" was "to share feedback on how the ordinance is working or not"--but discouraged discussion of the constitutional issues it raises. At two better attended events held last summer, there was much opposition to creating a new Sit/Lie ordinance, but that did not stop Council.
Portland Shootings on the Rise
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through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.