A ‘cowardly move’: Vote on $18 million in police cuts delayed until after election

A ‘cowardly move’: Vote on $18 million in police cuts delayed until after election

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty at a rally in downtown Portland on July 17th, 2020.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been a wild 24 hours.

A flyer posted in the Boise-Eliot neighborhood for Hardesty’s “Rethink Portland” police reform initiative.

Months of fireworks on the streets during protests for racial justice and against police brutality led to fireworks at City Hall on Wednesday as members of City Council considered a proposal to cut $18 million from the Portland Police Bureau budget. A planned vote was delayed because Mayor Ted Wheeler and commissioners Amanda Fritz and Dan Ryan said they needed more time to digest it. And then around 1:00 pm on Thursday, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty – who spearheaded the budget proposal and pushed hard for a vote Wednesday — issued a scathing rebuke of Mayor Wheeler’s “failed” leadership and endorsed his challenger Sarah Iannarone just days before a very tight election.

Hardesty has worked for months to craft the cuts based on her Rethink Portland initiative and she formed a united front with fellow Commissioner Chloe Eudaly in support of them. But on a five-member council, this progressive duo needed to become a trio to enact the changes. With the election on Tuesday, they wanted a vote before the next meeting. With Wheeler and Fritz voting as a block against significant police reform, it all came down to untested Commissioner Dan Ryan who’s only been in office since September 10th after winning a special election in August to replace the late Nick Fish.


The 5 tenets of Hardesty’s proposal.

Hardesty and Eudaly worked more like activists than politicians in the past week, urging people to contact the three other commissioners. Cutting $18 million from the police budget after $15 million in cuts back in June is a big deal and tension around the vote was high. 165 people testified and the majority of them strongly supported the move.

“I don’t want to be rushed right now.”
— Dan Ryan, city commissioner

I’m sharing this on BikePortland because the police budget matters to everyone who uses Portland streets — especially people of color, vulnerable and marginalized road users like bicycle riders, and those who use streets to exercise their constitutional right to protest. Traffic stops are the most common way most people interact with police and we’ve watched for years as PPB officers have used traffic law-related justifications to forcibly — and too often violently — remove law-abiding citizens from streets and other public spaces.

While transportation-specific policing issues haven’t garnered much attention in Portland yet, the cuts and reforms being proposed by Hardesty and Eudaly (who happens to be in charge of the transportation bureau) will inevitably lead us there.

In a memo from Hardesty to her colleagues on October 19th detailing the proposal, she described her vision for, “A Portland where a reduced police force is focused solely on solving crime, where crime is addressed through a public health lens, and where we make reinvestments in community and police alternatives to provide support and de‐escalated responses to those in need of assistance.” The biggest line item in the cuts, over $7 million, would eliminate the 42 officer positions left empty by recent retirements. Other elements include an elimination of overtime and reduction of funding for military-grade munitions. Hardesty wants to use money saved in PPB cuts to support “our most vulnerable community members, creating alternatives to police, and setting aside funds in contingency to help mitigate any potential cuts.”

When it came time to take a stand and vote for the proposal, Commissioner Fritz said she was “exhausted” and needed more information, Wheeler said he wanted more analysis of the potential impacts of the cuts, and Ryan simply said he needed more time. “I don’t want to be rushed right now,” Ryan said. “And I also reflecting on what happened in the US Senate this week. I think most supporters would agree on the fact that they’ve made a rushed vote on a Supreme Court justice a week before the election, so why would I want to be a part of a government that does that?”

When it became clear there would be no vote yesterday, Hardesty did not hide her disappointment:

“I am disappointed that we didn’t do our job tonight. People have been taking into the street, every night for 156 days. It is shocking that my city council colleagues don’t know why people are taking to the street. I wish I could have actually fulfilled the public’s request and cut the full 35 million, but that would not have been a responsible move. Commissioner Eudaly and I worked very hard to make sure that the cuts that we were proposing would not impact the staffing levels of Portland Police Bureau, nor would it have an impact on the DOJ settlement agreement. This didn’t come out of nowhere. And each of you have had many opportunities to ask questions on my amendments, all of you have had an opportunity to push back.

I see it as a very cowardly move to be trying to put this vote off until after the election, because that’s exactly what it is.

I am a bit disgusted tonight with the lack of courage of this council… I am really disappointed in you colleagues. We had the opportunity to show the public that not only are we being responsible; but we’re actually listening to the people who night after night after night are telling us what they need. What it cowardly way to end, what has been a very brilliant afternoon of testimony.”

Hardesty’s proposal will be back at City Hall for a possible vote on Thursday November 5th at 2:00 pm.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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