After a little over a year on the job, Portland Police Bureau’s first ever homeless community liaison has left the post.
Following an eight-month hiring process, Stephanie Herro started work in August 2019, serving as a point-of contact between the agencies and advocates assisting the region’s homeless population and the police bureau. The position was created under the tenure of former Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw.
Herro’s hire was widely publicized, trumpeted in a press release by the bureau and reported on by local outlets. Her departure in January was not. OPB learned of Herro’s departure after a brief side exchange at a Wednesday evening work session on homeless services between the city and Multnomah County officials.
Asked to list what city agencies served the region’s homeless population, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, volunteered the police bureau because it had a homeless facilitator. Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran interjected that she believed that facilitator had left.
The police bureau confirmed Thursday that Herro did indeed depart in January, though a spokesperson could not comment on the reason for her departure. OPB could not reach Herro for comment.
The homeless community liaison position deals directly with two of the most pressing issues facing Portland: police oversight and homelessness. How police interact with the city’s homeless population has drawn increased scrutiny in recent years after an analysis by the Oregonian/OregonLive showed that roughly half of the arrests by the Portland Police Bureau in 2017 involved people experiencing homelessness.
The Portland Street Response program, which launched in February, has been seen by some as a potential antidote to the issue of criminalizing homelessness. The program offers a non-police response to 911 calls involving people experiencing homelessness or in a mental health crisis. The program is currently operating in Portland’s Lents neighborhood, with the goal of eventually scaling up citywide.
The police bureau’s homeless community liaison position offered a path for work internally on the issue, and to better the outcomes of the interactions that do occur. According to the mayor’s office, Herro had been in the midst of a series of projects to that end when she left including:
- Reclassifying crimes against people experiencing homeless as hate crimes to aid prosecution
- Reducing arrests related to failure to appear warrants
- Dedicating county shelter beds for use by the Portland Police Bureau
- Developing an enhanced drug court system to prevent jailing
- Training PPB personnel on the Portland Street Response and the interplay with the police bureau
The position has remained vacant since Herro’s departure. Lt. Greg Pashley said the bureau is keeping it vacant, along with most other professional staff and sworn positions, until there’s a better financial picture for the upcoming fiscal year.
The mayor’s communications director Jim Middaugh said Wheeler plans to rehire.
“The Mayor’s Office believes it is important to fill the Police Bureau’s homelessness liaison position to continue the important coordination and partnership among law enforcement, human services agencies, and people experiencing homelessness so everyone in our community is safer,” Middaugh wrote in a statement.