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Portland City Council Approves Budget Cutting Additional $15M From Police

<p>Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Multnomah County Justice Center in the third week of widespread demonstrations against structural racism and police violence on June 15, 2020. Throughout the night protesters shined flashlights and laser pointers at police officers and sheriffs deputies, who ultimately used physical force and less lethal munitions to disperse the crowd.</p>

Jonathan Levinson


Hundreds of protesters gathered at the Multnomah County Justice Center in the third week of widespread demonstrations against structural racism and police violence on June 15, 2020. Throughout the night protesters shined flashlights and laser pointers at police officers and sheriffs deputies, who ultimately used physical force and less lethal munitions to disperse the crowd.

UPDATE (2:16 p.m. PT) — Portland City Council has approved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that will cut an additional $15 million from the police bureau’s budget, but falls short of the $50 million cut that community advocates had been pushing for.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a longtime advocate for overhauling the city’s police bureau, said the cuts represent a historic moment for Portland. The bureau was previously poised to receive more than $244 million.

This year’s budget process, said Hardesty, was one of the “most insane” the city has experienced. The budget proposed in March had to be drastically altered after the pandemic created a $75 million shortfall in the city’s general fund. All city bureaus were told they needed to cut 5.6% from their general fund budgets, including the police bureau.

Then in June, after a nationwide uprising against police brutality, the budget needed to be changed once again to account for the new push to take funding from the police budget. Demands made by protesters helped the Council come together around proposals that would see $15 million cut from the police bureau’s budget.

“Never in my life would I have imagined that we — any government — would be able to cut that much significant resources out of a police budget,” Hardesty said.

But in her remarks before her yes vote, she noted many in the community would not be satisfied with the changes. Hundreds had testified in front of Council saying they wanted to see a cut of at least $50 million. Thousands had written letters.

“I want to speak now directly to the people that are outraged that we didn’t have the audacity to cut $50 million out of the police budget,” Hardesty said. “I want to be clear that $50 million number was based on nothing. There was no analysis done.”

She went on to say that she believed the more dramatic-sounding changes promised in cities like Los Angeles, which has proposed cutting up to $150 million from their budget, and Minneapolis, where a majority of the city council has pledged to disband the police force, may not be as transformational as they appear. The Los Angeles police department, she noted, had a billion dollar budget, which means the $150 million could be considered “petty cash.” And she predicted Minneapolis has a long legal  fight in front of them with the city's police union. 

“And while that court fight is taking place, the city of Portland will be fundamentally changing how community safety happens,” she said.

The budget approved Wednesday will eliminate three PPB specialty units, which many in the community say disproportionately target people of color. This means armed officers will be pulled from schools, Portland police will no longer be used as law enforcement on TriMet, and the Gun Violence Reduction Team will be disbanded. The city will also cut eight positions from the Special Emergency Reaction Team and stop cannabis tax money from going to the police bureau.

Nearly $5 million from the police bureau will go to the Portland Street Response, a new program by the city to dispatch unarmed first responders to answer calls for people experiencing homelessness. There will also be money previously earmarked for the police that will now go to a fund to develop black youth leadership, a tribal liaison position within the city’s Office of Governmental Relations, and additional funding for the Civil Rights Title VI Program in the Office of Equity and Human Rights, among other uses.

Commissioner Chloe Eudaly was the lone vote against the budget, saying it didn’t go far enough to address community outcry for dramatic reform.

This was the second time the commissioner voted against the budget. Last week, when the budget included an emergency clause - meaning it needed to pass unanimously - Eudaly made the surprise decision to vote against it. She cast her no vote after the changes she proposed failed to garner any support from her colleagues. One of these changes would have seen another $4.6 million come out of the police bureau’s budget. That no vote meant the budget had to come before council again this week, when it no longer needed to pass unanimously.

Despite her no vote, Eudaly gave a nod to the concessions won by nightly protests that have seen thousands come out onto the streets against police brutality.

“Please do not be discouraged. We couldn’t have done this without you. What is happening today is big. It’s not everything you wanted, but it’s not incremental,” she said. “Please take a moment to celebrate this victory.” 

Before their yes votes, Commissioner Amandra Fritz and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler gave thanks to Hardesty for her leadership.

Calling his partnership with Hardesty “phenomenal” and “one for the ages,” Wheeler said, despite being police commissioner, it was logical to defer to her leadership during a time of crisis in police accountability. 

He noted there were reforms in this budget he would not have pushed six months ago. But after hearing cries from the community that policing in Portland needs to fundamentally change, he said it was his duty as a leader to evolve.

“And that’s exactly what I’ve done,” he said.

Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is retiring and has received criticism for staying comparatively quiet during these weeks of protests compared to her colleagues, said, as a white woman, it had made sense to take a back seat. The commissioner got choked up as she thanked Hardesty.

“If ever there was a time for white people to be quiet and let other people have the floor and tell us what they want, this was it,” said Fritz. 

As the commissioners made their remarks and cast their votes, groups of protesters had gathered outside the mayor’s apartment downtown, pushing for the council to make a last minute change and cut funding by more than $15 million.

In her closing remarks before her vote, Hardesty expressed frustration toward some of these new white activists who include her in their call for leaders to take more drastic steps.

“It is not appropriate for you to say that I have not gone far enough.,” she said. “You don’t know the shoes that I've walked in over the 30 years I've lived in Portland.”

She brought up Kendra James, Keaton Otis, and Aaron Campbell - three black people killed by the Portland police - and asked where these demands for equality were at the time. 

Later in the afternoon, the council voted to make June 19th, a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. a paid day off for city employees, 

“As an initial step the City of Portland formally recognizes and apologizes for the atrocities Black people have suffered in this nation and Portland, OR,” read the ordinance unanimously passed Wednesday. 


Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rebecca Ellis