Portland leaders reconsider arrangement between Downtown Service District and police

Portland leaders said they would phase out a controversial agreement between the police bureau and Downtown Clean & Safe, a nonprofit that provides additional cleaning and security services in the downtown area.

Since 1997, the nonprofit has hired Portland Police to patrol the Downtown Enhanced Services District, one of three areas in the city where homeowners pay a fee for better services. than those provided by the city. Under the agreement, four bicycle police officers are tasked with patrolling the 213-block radius. Paying businesses in the district receive a faster police response.

A woman walks past the Woodlark Building, home of the Woodlark Hotel, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in downtown Portland, Ore.

Bryan M. Vance/OPB

The arrangement has come under scrutiny in recent years with a city ​​audit highlighting a failure by Portland leaders to oversee these neighborhoods and showing how police oversight in the area had been outsourced to a private entity. In the aftermath of the audit, advocacy groups argued that a private group should not be able to hire public safety officers.

The thorny issue went unresolved in last year’s controversial vote by the Portland City Council to renew the city’s contract with Downtown Clean & Safe. The $25 million deal committed the nonprofit to oversee the improved service district for another five years, but left many of the more contentious aspects of the arrangement unchanged, including the district’s reliance on the private security and city police officers.

With a separate agreement between Downtown Clean & Safe and the police bureau expiring at the end of June, city leaders have quietly re-examined the relationship. On Wednesday, the city council will consider a new four-year contract between the two entities that would eventually see Downtown Clean & Safe sever its relationship with the police office.

The change would be gradual. Under the contract, Downtown Clean & Safe would continue to pay the city for four police officers for another two years, through June 2024. Clean & Safe would pay the city no more than $544,000 for the first year and an undetermined amount for the second. year. .

In the summer of 2024, Downtown Clean & Safe would stop paying for bike patrol, under the proposed deal. But the police bureau agreed to keep officers in the area for at least two more years until June 2026, although the nonprofit would no longer pay for those services.

Clean & Safe members will continue to be able to contact the Bike Patrol directly if they need a police officer, and law enforcement and Clean & Safe leaders will show up weekly, as per contract.

This aspect of the deal has already sparked outrage from some of Downtown Clean & Safe’s most vocal opponents, who see the neighborhood getting a bargain at the city’s expense: two years of free custom policing.

“By phasing out funding for Clean and Safe at PPB, it now ensures that the public will fully fund private interests for exactly the same role they served before,” said organizers of Stop The Sweeps, an advocacy group that rallied against renewing the district last year, wrote in a statement. “…Now all members of the Portland community will be forced to ‘sign up’ for Clean and Safe through this contract and be forced to pay for security services that many disagree with and have had terrible results, as evidenced by the state of the downtown core.”

Shawn Campbell, the city’s new and improved district coordinator, led the contract and said a slow dissolution of the arrangement presented a ‘win-win’ for advocacy groups and downtown businesses. . The deal shifts the private sector out of public safety in a “responsible way” that won’t leave downtown scrambling for the beefed-up police presence they’ve relied on for a quarter-century.

“Whether it should exist or not, [we] can’t do anything about it because we don’t have a time machine,” Campbell said. “At this point, it’s a level of service that’s been around for 25 years, and it’s not something very simple to just get rid of.”

Campbell said incomplete records, particularly regarding lower-level service calls, meant city leaders weren’t ready to terminate the arrangement immediately. He said they want to collect more data on the types of calls that bike police working with Downtown Clean & Safe respond to before the city takes over full responsibility for patrols in the area.

There also seems to be some wiggle room for the city in the years that Clean & Safe actually gets a free bike patrol. The contract states that the police bureau “accepts the goal” of keeping officers in the Downtown Clean & Safe area between 2024 and 2026, but Campbell said the bureau will be able to relocate police if needed in another part of town due to a lack of staff. The contract commits the police office to make “every effort” to maintain the bike patrol and the current level of service until 2026.

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