As the City Council prepares to fine-tune the budget for this fiscal year, two Portland City Commissioners are poised to make a dramatic ask.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly are uniting behind a call for $18 million in cuts to the police bureau’s budget.
The city is in the midst of its fall budget monitoring process. Typically, this is a time to tinker lightly with the budget that the council approved over the summer. Back in June, after a month of racial justice protests and loud calls to pull funding from police, Hardesty spearheaded a $15 million cut that defunded three of the police bureau’s specialty units.
Four months later, Hardesty is leading the push for another significant cut.
In a memo sent to her fellow commissioners Monday, Hardesty described the changes she wanted to make to the budget. The commissioner described cuts that would eliminate funding for the Rapid Response Team, which is responsible for crowd control, and the Special Emergency Reaction Team, which functions as the city’s SWAT team. The council had previously cut eight positions from the team over the summer.
These units receive a relatively small amount of funding from the city: the Rapid Response Team gets $127,474 and SERT receives $633,989, according to Hardesty’s office. They said if these amendments pass, the police bureau could potentially choose to keep these specialty units, but would need to find the funding elsewhere.
During months of racial justice protests, the city’s police force has been widely criticized for an excessive response to the nightly protests that have left Portlanders severely injured, prompted a mounting number of lawsuits, and sent the police bureau $1.5 million over its approved annual budget. In her memo, Hardesty said she believed months of protests made it clear the police response wasn’t working.
“It has become clear to me through research and seeing tactics used during the 100+ days of protesting that the Police Bureau utilizes antiquated methods of protest policing,” she wrote.
The commissioner is also pushing to make a portion of the one-time 5.6% cut that the mayor’s office had asked all bureaus to make to offset the financial impacts of COVID-19 permanent within the police bureau and cut the 42 positions that were left vacant during the wave of retirements in August. Other changes include ending the bureau’s practice of secondary employments, cutting back on overtime, and reducing funding “for military-like supplies and munitions.”
These changes would come at a time when the bureau is facing significant staffing shortages. Police have said their ranks are stretched thin after months of protests and a wave of retirements that have left them too depleted to respond to all the 911 calls that come in.
All together, Hardesty wrote that the package of amendments would reduce the bureau’s budget by more than $18 million. According to a draft of the proposal, Hardesty’s office hopes to redirect that money largely toward the city’s COVID response.
“We need a budget that reflects the reality many Portlanders face, and one that reflects the demands of the moment,” Hardesty said in a statement. “The amendments I’m proposing are people-centered. They offer a chance for us to make sure people are sheltered and have food in their stomachs during this economic downturn, and invest in the community and community safety as demanded by our constituents.”
The council is scheduled to vote on the budget changes next Wednesday. Hardesty’s expected to officially announce her amendments at an event Thursday evening.
Eudaly’s office said they’re in full support of the amendments and have been working with Hardesty’s office on crafting them.
Hardesty will need one more vote to get the package of amendments passed. It’s unlikely she will have the support of either Commissioner Amanda Fritz or Mayor Ted Wheeler, both of whom have expressed reluctance to pull more from the bureau and have emphasized that they do not see the fall as a time to make drastic cuts.
During a council session Tuesday on the budget, Wheeler revealed his own priorities for the budget. His proposal would include investing in a “community-led process empowering Black Portlanders.” This would receive $1.9 million from cannabis tax revenues and $1.5 million from the police bureau’s budget.
“This proposal will give the community voice and votes to decide how best to invest in the changes needed to advance equity and racial justice,” Wheeler said in a statement.
Other adjustments the mayor’s pushing for include: $271,000 for two new positions within the Office of Violence Prevention, $800,000 for garbage and litter collection, and $150,000 for Travel Portland to “raise the profile” of downtown businesses.
This means Commissioner Dan Ryan, the newest member of the council, will likely cast the deciding vote on whether the police bureau sees a significant slash in its budget.
Ryan told OPB he’s mulling it over and looking for a compromise.
“I’m going to work with both proposals that are emerging and look for common ground,” he said.