Since 2012, court has been in session every Friday at Bud Clark Commons, a homeless facility in Old town. It’s a community court — the first to be located at a homeless shelter — aimed at getting more people to show up for hearings on common street crimes and violations like public drinking, littering, and trespassing. As an incentive, when defendants plead guilty to these kinds of violations in community court, they can often have fines waived if they agree instead to perform community service or attend addiction treatment.
The problem is most people still don’t show up for community court. One way police and prosecutors are addressing this problem is by requiring court dates to be held closer to the time of the actual citation. Another way is the Chronic Offenders Pilot Project. This is something Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill started back in June, basically instructing police officers to not only issue citations for violating ordinances, but to verbally ask offenders to stop their behavior. That way, if that person was caught repeating the behavior, they could be arrested for “refusing to obey a lawful order by a peace officer.” And if they fail to show up for a community court hearing once they’re released, then a warrant is issued for their re-arrest.
While this program has been used sparingly, the Portland Mercury recently revealed that in some cases, police are expanding its scope. The DA’s office says the policy wasn’t intended to be used against people who violate the city’s sidewalk ordinance — but that’s exactly what most of the citations have been for.