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Portland budget vote delayed amid argument over police racial profiling

Portland City Commissioners had a packed agenda Wednesday and time was limited. They will take up the proposed annual budget again Thursday.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A vote on the proposed budget for the City of Portland was delayed until Thursday afternoon.

Commissioners stayed to listen to all public testimony Wednesday, which included emotional comments on parks bureau cuts and the Portland Police Gun Violence Reduction Unit.

Wednesday's hearing became heated at times as Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty pitched her plan to disband the police bureau's Gun Violence Reduction Team. Hardesty wants to transfer those officers to the bureau's thinly-stretched patrol. 

Based on a 2018 city of Portland audit, Hardesty said she believes the gun violence team racially profiles people of color when making traffic stops, specifically African Americans. 

The team was previously called the Gang Enforcement Team, but as of late last year police said its focus was shifted to all gun violence in the city, rather than strictly on gang violence.

City auditor report: Gang Enforcement Team traffic stops disproportionately affect African Americans

"The auditor’s report shows 59% of stops — which is consistent since we've been collecting data — are of African Americans, in a city with 6% African American population. This is totally inexcusable and it must be addressed," Hardesty told her fellow commissioners and the crowd in council chambers.

Hardesty said the auditor found the police bureau couldn't demonstrate their stops were effective because the department does not require officers to collect certain information or analyze available data. She said the audit found officers on the team do not report reasons for making stops or analyze the results of the stops that pertain to gun seizures or arrests.

"What we know is that there is no criteria for who is being stopped, no analysis of why stops took place and what we know is, quite frankly, the police bureau has shown they have no interest in being held accountable by the people they are sworn to protect and serve," Hardesty said.

Wheeler argued Hardesty and fellow Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who echoed Hardesty's concerns, don't understand what the team does.

Related: Audit finds Portland police maintain list of gang members

The police bureau argued the shift to a gun violence reduction team, rather than a team focused on gang activity, has led to a decrease in shootings in the city. Assistant Chief Andrew Shearer testified and said between January and May 3 of this year, there have been 130 shootings in the city. That totals out to an average of almost a shooting a day in Portland. It's important to note, not every shooting indicates a person was struck.

"Since the implementation of the new Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT) model in October 2018, the trend line for shootings in the city has trended downward," Shearer told the commissioners. "With two small exceptions for the first portion of this year, we’ve realized each month has had fewer shootings than the month prior to it. This is a safety agenda we’ve developed that I believe is in favor of this community. And if this was de-funded, I believe there’d be a decrease not just in clearance rates of shootings but an increase in shootings that occur in the city."

After the audit came out last year, Shearer said they made significant changes within the unit and have added new technology that's generated numerous investigative leads and connect multiple shootings to one another.

"We’ve begun to review, track and assign all shooting cases as part of GVRT where prior to that we only investigated shooting cases that had a gang nexus. Because of this new approach, we’ve increased investigative resources by doubling detectives in the division from six to 12," Shearer said.

Multiple people testified in favor and against the Gun Violence Reduction Team. 

But most of the public testimony was focused on the Parks and Recreation Bureau cuts and layoffs, and many people became emotional in sharing their stories and concerns.

Hardesty is also pushing changes to the budget to save jobs in the Portland Parks and Recreation bureau, which would see the biggest cuts in Mayor Ted Wheeler's proposed budget.

The bureau has a $6.3 million budget shortfall, and it's been growing for years. The city is looking at cutting more than 50 jobs and shutting down beloved community centers.

RELATED: Portland Parks & Rec funding gap puts Sellwood Community Center on chopping block

Commissioner Hardesty proposed a one-time, one-year freeze to cost of living increases for certain city employees, including commissioners, to increase funding to the parks bureau to avoid layoffs. 

She also pitched re-appropriating the police bureau's vacancy savings and body worn camera program.

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