Easy does it

It's been a sleepy news week here at Blog Central, or maybe it's my interest in the news that's dozing off. I was encouraged, however, to see that two of the three newbies on the Portland City Council, Mingus Mapps and Dan Ryan, are behaving like the grownups I hoped they would be.

Ryan and Mapps are joining the mayor, Dud Wheeler, in continuing a cautious approach to implementing the city's "street response" pilot project. The project sends a paramedic, a shrink, and a social worker – and not a cop with a gun – to 911 calls involving mental illness or addiction but not threatening violence. The program, which is like what Eugene, Oregon has been doing for deacdes, is currently operating on a trial basis in the rugged Lents neighborhood in southeast Portland.

City commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is gung-ho to make the program five or six times larger right away, and to use it across the entire city. But the three men say it's too early to tell if the program should be expanded in its current form. It gets fewer than 60 calls a month, and it didn't prevent the police killing of a disturbed man in Lents a few weeks ago. The 911 dispatchers, correctly, didn't send "street response" to that episode because the call to police mentioned a weapon.

The move to expand "street response" immediately is as much a slap in the face to the city's police as it is a benign gesture to the city's homeless hordes. If you take the "defund the murderers" element out of it, it doesn't have nearly the political pizzazz. Given the city's outrageous gun violence problem, which is breaking all records for incidents and deaths, it's hard to say that this is a good time to starve the police force of money. But you can be sure that's high up on Hardesty's agenda. She seems to be reveling in the unrest and disorder currently gripping the city, as if it were a sign that the revolution, which she of course will lead, is at hand.

I was mildly amused to see two members of Portland's congressional delegation weighing in on the City Council budget question. Both Senator Ron Wyden (R-NY) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Moon) announced that they favor Hardesty's full-funding push for "street response." Which is fine, I guess, but since when are those two birds so interested in local public safety issues? When guys like that pop in suddenly, you start looking for the money.

Speaking of which, perhaps some well-connected local nonprofits will cash in when "street response" goes citywide. From the O's Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, we learn:

Currently, some response team members are unionized fire bureau employees, an approach Hardesty would like to see continue as the program grows. But the mayor’s office has said that it’s also worth exploring program models that use contracted workers from non-profits who would receive less pay and benefits than public employees, saving the city money.

A preliminary analysis by Tom Rinehart, a longtime Wheeler ally and the city’s chief administrative officer, found that a city employee model would cost between $4 million and $8 million a year more than one that paid contracted workers an annual salary of $55,000, documents show.

Hardesty’s office said that switching to a contract worker model could set a citywide program back months or even years.

Hmmmm. Something is going on with the money, but I can't quite make out exactly what it is.

Anyway, good on Mapps and Ryan for standing up for common sense. As for the other rookie council member, Carmen Rubio, she seems to be following in the footsteps of her former boss, Nick Fish, who never made a wave and had a nice political career as a result. On this one, Rubio's with Hardesty. But the boys win, 3 to 2.


  1. So send 3 people instead of one? What about training the police on how to handle all situations? Oh right, we cut the budget dramatically. I think in many cases a cop isn't needed, but I agree we need to track the money trail on this one. And are these new folks going to be wearing a body-cam?


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