Portland Police intensify downtown surveillance after sit-lie ruling

From KGW.com, August 13 2009

Portland Police are in a pinch. Courts recently took away their authority to give out warnings and write civil citations to rule breakers under a city sidewalk obstruction ordinance.

A judge says the ordinance conflicts with state law.

For three weeks, officers have been performing off-and-on surveillance behind downtown office windows, using binoculars to monitor behavior down below on the sidewalks.

When they see an infraction, they send a radio message to street level patrols who make the eventual arrest.

“We’ve had reports of aggressive panhandling here, drinking alcohol,” said Officer Brian Hughes while looking through binoculars at a corner near Pioneer Courthouse downtown.

Central Precinct Commander Mike Reese says he has no choice but to call for these labor-intensive stings because the courts say Portland’s previous approach to sidewalk enforcement clashes with state law.

“Without those tools, we have to wait until somebody is victimized before we really have an opportunity to move in and make an arrest,” said Reese.

In 2007, police officers explained to citizens what was wrong with their behavior. Back then, police gave advice to rule breakers on where to get social services and issued warnings to first-time offenders. Repeat offenders received civil citations, not criminal citations.

Now there are no warnings.

The judge’s ruling forces Portland Police to arrest and criminally cite all offenders whether it be for intimidation, harassment, littering or a number of other illegal behaviors.

Standing around, for example, is not illegal.

“It’s the taking up the entire sidewalk or a great portion of the sidewalk,” that’s illegal, explained Hughes.

Police have been averaging two or three arrests per day performing this type of enforcement.

“One of the (littering) suspects had heroin in his pocket,” said Hughes.

Reese says the enforcement approach is unsustainable financially because it uses too much manpower for relatively minor offenses.

He says the bulk of the problem — caused by a group he refers to as “road warriors” — will go away as soon as the weather turns cold and damp this fall.

But while in legal limbo, it is how Portland Police will control illegal behavior on sidewalks until further notice.

Portland city attorneys are trying to sort out conflicting rulings on this topic from two different judges this year.

If that proves fruitless, perhaps only changes in state law will allow Portland Police resume enforcing sidewalks the way they prefer.

OUR COMMENT – The conclusion of this article is unsubstantiated by the facts within the article. The City’s controversial sit / lie ordinance has been ruled unconstitutional and is no longer enforced; it is both discriminatory and unequally enforceable. Those ‘rule breakers’ are not rule breakers. The words above are pure fluffery and without merit. This sort of slack August journalism is another example how persons with mental illness and addiction are demeaned and disregarded by our community leaders.