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Novick Proposes Funding Portland Traffic Safety With Cuts To Police Drug Unit

OPB | April 1, 2014 2:10 p.m. | Updated: April 2, 2014 1:18 p.m.

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In a budget work session Tuesday, Portland Commissioner Steve Novick advocated cutting the $3.9 million budget of the Portland Police’s Drug and Vice Unit, the largest drug investigation organization in the state.

Novick said he wants to see some of the unit’s $3.9 million budget reallocated toward other safety priorities in the 2014-2015 budget, in particular $1 million he has proposed in pedestrian safety measures and $2.9 million for an emergency operations center and fueling station that would serve West Portland in the event of a Cascadia earthquake and other natural disasters.

The Portland Police Bureau’s Drug and Vice unit primarily targets mid-level drug dealers, an effort Novick argues is futile.

“I thought it was reasonable to look at the Drugs and Vice Unit, because you can’t really throw a rock without hitting another study that says that the war on drugs has failed, that trying to interrupt the drug supply is a losing battle,“ he said.

Novick says the city’s bureaus have submitted $30 million in new requests, and only $6 million in new funding will be available this year.

Police Chief Mike Reese defended the Drug and Vice unit’s work to the council.

“There is a profound impact on our community. We had 15 homicides and 35 traffic fataltities last year. We had 103 overdose deaths in 2012 which is the last year that there is data for,” he said.

Reese said that in 2013, the Drug and Vice division had successfully investigated 21 overdoses, and he said in specific cases those investigations had led to the arrest of multiple suspects four or five levels up the drug supply chain.

Novick pushed back, questioning whether drug arrests had a significant impact on overdoses. He quoted a report conducted by the Police Bureau’s Crime Analysis Unit which found that overdose deaths have increased in recent years in spite of increased arrests for drug related crime.

“This is undoubtedly due to the fact that law enforcement efforts can only touch a small percentage of the drug market that exists in Portland, and consequently is limited in the effect it can make on improving addicts lives” the report concluded.

The Crime Analysis Unit report also found that alcohol was more closely correlated to violent crime than amphetamines, cocaine, or heroin.

Mayor Charlie Hales did not reveal where he stood on potential cuts to the Drug and Vice Unit. During the hearing, he appeared to seek middle ground.

“Who’s taking an innovative approach to this set of questions. How do we try to intervene in people’s lives who are being affected by the use of drugs and perhaps overdosing if we despair a little bit of totally interrupting the supply?” he asked.

Commissioner Novick said he is uncertain of where the mayor stands. For the proposed cuts to move forward, they need to be included in Mayor Hales’ proposed budget, which he will release April 30.

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