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Portland City Council adjourns meeting without voting on proposed $18M police budget cuts

As part of an overall fall budget adjustment, Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Chloe Eudaly pushed for the reduction. A vote is expected next week.

PORTLAND, Ore. — After five hours of public testimony, Portland City Council adjourned an intense meeting Wednesday night without voting on a proposed $18 million cut to the Portland Police Bureau’s (PPB) budget.

As part of an overall fall budget adjustment, Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Chloe Eudaly pushed for the reduction, with the money instead going toward housing and COVID-19 relief, including allocating $7.5 million to the Housing Bureau to help people facing evictions amid the pandemic. Another $7.4 million would go toward emergency food assistance.

But after several hours of public testimony, Mayor Ted Wheeler along with Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Dan Ryan said they needed more time, until next week, to consider the proposal.

“It’s clear the proposals on the table have captured the will and the interest of many in our community," Wheeler said, in part, in a statement. "It’s our job to ensure that any decisions we make result in the change we all want to see. Several members of the City Council, including me, have questions that require answers before we can be assured that will be the case."

In a statement Wednesday night, Hardesty said her proposal has been carefully put together and that the city can’t afford to wait any longer to act.

“I am disappointed we have chosen to delay taking this long overdue step in addressing a system that has long unjustly targeted and criminalized Portlanders of color, houseless Portlanders, and Portlanders experiencing mental health crises,” she said.

Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said he believes the cuts would be detrimental to the safety of the community.

"An additional cut of $18 million would require significant layoffs and affect the police bureau's ability to respond to 911 calls," he said.

"In addition, the proposed budget reductions also will reduce training and diversity initiatives, increase response times, slow investigations, and challenge the police bureau's ability to meet our community's expectations and needs," Lovell said.

Earlier this year, Portland City Council cut $15 million from PPB’s budget. But for some, those cuts didn't go far enough. Demonstrators who have consistently taken to Portland's streets over the past five months since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis have called for further defunding of PPB.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, staff from Hardesty’s office confirmed she’s officially proposing the overall cut and reallocation of $18,022,101 from PPB’s budget, but she’s not formally calling on the city to make those cuts by eliminating specific teams or positions.

In a recent memo to her fellow commissioners, Hardesty gave a list of suggestions as to where the money could be found. On that list, she suggested eliminating 42 positions vacated by officers who retired in August. She estimated that would save around $7 million. She also wants PPB to eliminate a combined $1.2 million in funding for the Special Emergency Response Team, or SERT, and the Rapid Response Team. The latter is a key component in the bureau's response to protests which have continued almost nightly for months.

In that memo, Hardesty wrote, “I believe there is a different way forward from where we have been. A Portland where a reduced police force is focused solely on solving crime, where crime is addressed through a public health lens, and where we make reinvestments in community and police alternatives."

Wheeler’s opponent in next week’s election, Sarah Iannarone, enthusiastically endorses the cuts, especially if it means pulling police back from protests.

“Just in June, [the Bureau had] $4 million in police overtime. We're going to be millions of dollars over budget in terms of police staffing this year through … bad management,” she said.

KGW’s Maggie Vespa contributed to this report.

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