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Jo Ann Hardesty, police reform, and protester violence

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has been a vocal advocate for police reform for decades. Today she is the driving force behind Portland City Council's moves to change the way the city provides for public safety. On Thursday Dave Miller of Oregon Public Broadcasting interviewed Hardesty on OPB's Think Out Loud to talk about her work on police reform and look ahead to what comes next.

I will note at the outset that I have been critical of Hardesty in the past and anticipate that I will be again. Here I want to give credit where credit is due. Hardesty's criticism of the Portland Police Bureau is on target. Her proposals for reform have merit. The program will sound familiar to anyone who has been paying attention. The ideas are not in and of themselves groundbreaking. Implementation is.

On June 17 the city council approved a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that cut an additional $15 million from the police bureau's budget on top of the $5.6 million cut mandated for all city bureaus in response to the revenue shortfall caused by the pandemic. Critics complained that the cuts did not go far enough, pointing to demands that $50 million be cut. To this Hardesty's response was terse: "I want to be clear that $50 million number was based on nothing. There was no analysis done." Among the changes:

The budget…will eliminate three PPB specialty units…[said to] disproportionately target people of color…armed officers will be pulled from schools, Portland police will no longer be used as law enforcement on TriMet [public transit], and the Gun Violence Reduction Team will be disbanded. The city wll also cut eight positions from the Special Emergency Reaction Team and stop cannabis tax money from going to the police bureau.

Nearly $5 million from the police bureau will go to the Portland Street Response, a new program by the city to dispatch unarmed first responders to answer calls for people experiencing homelessness. There will also be money previously earmarked for the police that will now go to a fund to develop black youth leadership, a tribal liaison position within the city’s Office of Governmental Relations, and additional funding for the Civil Rights Title VI Program in the Office of Equity and Human Rights, among other uses. (Ellis, Portland City Council Approves Budget Cutting…).

Hardesty told Miller flat out that this is not about abolishing the police. We will still have murders, domestic abuse, other crimes of violence, kidnapping, &c., for which the police will be needed. The police imprint will be smaller and policing will be done differently as resources are shifted elsewhere.

The reforms strike me as worth pursuing, with this caveat: Unless they are unique among human affairs, there will be unintended consequences, not all of them desirable. It is to be hoped that the agenda will include a process for regular review and readiness to revise or ditch programs when appropriate. Whether this will happen remains to be seen.

Toward the end of the interview Miller mentioned a conversation Hardesty recently had with Portland's new police chief. She says she told the chief she does not want to hear about good protesters and bad protesters until he is willing to acknowledge police misconduct. The chief would not do so. End of conversation.

One might expect Miller to press Hardesty on the issue of protester violence. By all means call out the chief. But the chief's dereliction on this point does not justify a pass on protester violence. If the police response has not been appropriate, what should the city's response have been to multiple rampages downtown and in North Portland where fireworks and assorted objects were directed at police, when public monuments were defaced, damaged, or pulled down, when public restrooms in a park block were damaged and a historic elk statue had to be removed after protesters set fire to the base for reasons that will escape any rational being, when Multnomah County Justice Center and the federal courthouse downtown were attacked and vandalized? Hardesty, Mayor Ted Wheeler, and their fellow commissioners are failing the city.

That Miller was silent here and allowed Hardesty to be silent comes as no surprise. It is in keeping with what seems to be the culture at OPB and National Public Radio. OPB and NPR have been been out front with coverage of police violence, as they should be. I applaud this. Protester violence gets a wink and a nod. This is not as it should be. There was a time I took it for granted that public broadcasting would be better.

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