After a contentious hearing, the Portland city council postponed until Thursday their vote on the mayor’s proposed $600 million general fund budget for 2019-2020.
The council delayed the vote in order to extend the time for public testimony into the evening. Much of the public testimony was critical of the mayor’s proposed cuts to Portland Parks and Recreation, which has a $6.3 million annual budget deficit.
Related: Portland Police Release New Data On Gun Violence Reduction Team
The hearing became heated as Mayor Ted Wheeler lashed out at two of his colleagues during debate over funding for the police bureau’s Gun Violence Reduction Team.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has long been a critic of the team, and has proposed eliminating it and reassigning its 28 officers to patrol, and shifting the cost savings to the parks bureau.
Hardesty’s amendment defunding the team does not appear to have the votes it needs to pass, but she used the budget hearing as a platform to raise concerns about how the team polices African-Americans and other people of color.
A 2018 auditor’s report found that a majority of the people the team stopped were African-Americans, and it didn’t adequately document the reason for its stops.
“In a city with a six percent African-American population, this is absolutely inexcusable, and it must be addressed,” argued Hardesty, who as a black woman, is the only person of color on Portland City Council.
Hardesty has suggested that the team’s name change was just a rebranding, and at one point referred to it as the “the gun reduction whatever,” prompting approving laughter from some members of the public gathered in city hall.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly then echoed some of Hardesty’s comments, saying she remains concerned about the overpolicing of black communities in Portland. She questioned whether some of the team’s officers could be reassigned to other divisions – and stumbled over the team’s name in the process.
That’s when Wheeler – who serve as police commissioner – lobbed a personal barb at Eudaly and Hardesty.
“I find it hard to understand how my colleagues could understand the substance of a program when they don’t even know the name of the program,” he said.
Eudaly let out an “oh wow,” in response. Hardesty waited for the mayor to finish his comments defending the police bureau’s work, and then rebuked him.
“I just want to sanction you on being disrespectful to Commissioner Eudaly and myself,” she said. “I am disappointed, mayor, that you would take the opportunity to take a potshot at your colleagues.”
Wheeler made his first attempt at an apology.
“Commissioner Eudaly, I do apologize,” he said
“Only to her and not to me?” Hardesty asked.
“I’m turning to you, and if you’d stop interrupting to me, I could get to it. I apologize to you too.” Wheeler said. “I have listened while we cast aspersions on the employees of this city and not give them the opportunity to defend themselves. Let’s hear them out.”
That comment only further frustrated Commissioner Eudaly.
“Questioning staffing levels, allocation of resources, policies and procedures of the police bureau is not disparaging individual officers. I’ve stated time and time again that I respect the hard work of many of our officers,” Eudaly said. “That’s not what this is about.”
Mayor Wheeler concurred. Later in the hearing, he apologized again, and then a third time.
“I’m not proud of my behavior earlier, Commissioner Eudaly or Commissioner Hardesty,” he said. “I don’t even recognize myself sometimes.”
He continued, “I let my emotion get the better of me," he said. “You deserve better,” he told each of his colleagues.
Drama aside, the hearing provided a robust debate about the police bureau's evolving work on gun violence.
Police Chief Danielle Outlaw and her assistant chief Andy Shearer were there to present on changes the bureau has made in response to criticism of the Gang Enforcement Team's approach.
Shearer said PPB has hired an independent group to review the past year of homicides and non-fatal shootings to analyze patterns of violence in the city. Roughly one person a week is shot.
“Today the focus is solely on violent gun crime, and not just crime committed by gang members, as it had been investigated in the past,” Shearer said.
In response to a question from Commissioner Hardesty, Shearer said the team cleared 29% of the gun crimes it investigated last year — close to it’s 30% target.
“I think the real question on the table is whether or not we all experience the Portland police the same, and based on the data that I have in front of me, we have totally different experiences when it comes to the Portland Police,” Hardesty told Chief Outlaw, saying she felt like the bureau was not willing to own up to its problems.
Chief Outlaw said she is committed to understanding the reasons why African Americans are more likely to be stopped and searched.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge that there is a disparity there, and what we should be looking at is why,” Chief Outlaw said.
After it became clear that the council would not have enough time to hear from all 57 people who’d signed up to speak about the proposed budget and to vote on it, the council agreed to postpone its vote on the budget – and Hardesty’s proposed amendments to it – until Thursday.