PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In a sit-down interview inside City Hall with KOIN 6 News, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler talked about a number of livability issues in the city, including the open-air drug market recently cleaned up by Portland police.
Police staffing and Measure 110 were among the topics Wheeler talked about in this interview with KOIN 6 News anchor Jeff Gianola recorded May 11, 2023. (Editor’s note: The following transcript was edited for clarity.)
Jeff Gianola: Some folks say why was [the drug market at Fourth and Washington in downtown Portland] allowed to continue for so long before we finally got a police presence there to finally start cleaning it up. What would be your response to that?
Mayor Wheeler: Well, first of all, we have hot spots all over the city. Fourth and Washington was one that we were keenly aware of. We heard about it each and every day. We don’t own the building, it’s a privately owned building, and we needed permission from the landlords, we needed to work out some of those jurisdictional issues that we ultimately were able to work out an agreement with the owners of the building. We were able to go in in force, we were able to clear the site, we were able to board the site up and now we have foot patrols and 24/7 patrols in that area making sure that it remains clean.
JG: Do you ever see here in Portland an opportunity to maybe use a few state police officers to help patrol downtown while we get our force up back up to where it should be?
MW: Absolutely. I’ve had a very good relationship with our new governor, Tina Kotek. She has deployed the state police to work with the Portland Police Bureau on a number of operations, including auto theft operations. We’re working with our federal partners on some drug-related issues and arrests related to people selling and distributing fentanyl and P2P meth in our community and any time we have a partnership, whether it’s with the state, whether it’s with our federal partners or even when it’s with other local jurisdictions, that frees up more of our front line officers to be engaged in some of the liveability issues we’re seeing around town.
JG: So we’re not using state officers currently, like to patrol certain areas?
MW: No, but I will tell you this. I pledged a year ago that over the course of 3 years we’d hire 300 new police personnel. We are ahead of that goal now 10 months into that pledge. And in fact just this morning I went to a swearing-in ceremony for a number of new officers hitting the streets. …
…We now have enough officers that we’ve redeployed our traffic patrol. We have 24/7 coverage in some hotspots around the city and for the first time in years we have foot patrols downtown.
JG: Since Measure 110 took effect in February 2021, police have issued 4451 citations. A majority of people — 3057, or 69% — ignored the ticket, didn’t pay the fine or show up to court. Only 189 who called the hotline completed substance use screening, according to Lines for Life.
MW: Measure 110, however, is a disappointment to me. I’ve been very clear of that. It conceptually was good. It promised to reduce convictions for small personal amounts of illicit drugs and on the other hand, it was supposed to create a new source of funding for drug treatment, something desperately needed in this state, but ultimately what happened was the decriminalization happened, but the dollars that were supposed to go towards treatment really haven’t materialized at scale, and that’s problematic for me. I’ve been advocating down in Salem for them to do some reworks on Measure 110 to make sure those treatment dollars are being invested in desperately needed treatment services.
JG: Some addiction experts say actually Oregon’s old system with the drug courts was actually a system that was admired. There are some criminal penalties but waived if you go into treatment. That in itself was sort of holding drug users and drug sellers accountable.
MW: Absolutely, it’s a quid pro quo. And drug courts had that ability. It was a hammer on one hand because you were in court having committed a crime, but on the other hand, it was also an opportunity to enter treatment and incentives to be successful in that treatment and doing your part as the individual to be successful in your own treatment.
JG: The addiction crisis is also fueling our homeless epidemic. There are those who say we shouldn’t be imposing on people’s personal freedom or choice to live on the street or use drugs. A well-known addiction and homeless expert told me the problem in Portland is you’ve confused compassion with tolerance. I asked you that question a few years ago. What would be your answer now?
MW: How can anybody go by some of these people we see in the gutter with needles sticking out of their arms and thinking, ‘You know what, we should just leave them alone and let them be there and do their thing.’ Well they’re going to die and to me, that’s not a compassionate response, so I want to create this model that gives people that opportunity to be successful to recover their lives.
KOIN 6 News’ conversation with Mayor Ted Wheeler on homelessness issues and his plans continues on Tuesday, May 23.