COMMENTS on Houseless Sweeps Directive, November 2019
Below are comments from Portland Copwatch (PCW) on the "Managing Public
Spaces" Directive posted for review in early November at
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/746183 . This Directive,
number 835.20, was previously titled "Established Campsites on Public
Property." Since the substance of the policy seems aimed at people
living on the streets, and not how Portland Police patrol parks, and the
major actions contemplated involve throwing out people's belongings, the
new title seems more like a whitewash than an improvement. That is why
we titled our analysis "Comments on Houseless Sweeps Directive." We also
can't help but note the irony of this policy coming under review during
Comments on Houseless Sweeps Directive, November 2019
To Chief Outlaw, Capt. Parman, Lieutenant Morgan, PPB Policy Analysts,
Compliance Officer/Community Liaison Team, Community Oversight Advisory
Board staff, US Dept. of Justice, Independent Police Review, Citizen
Review Committee and the Portland Police Bureau:
It looks as if the last time this policy went up for review, for a 15
day period in August, PCW was one of only two persons/groups making
comments. This reflects not only the problem of the Bureau putting such
important policies out with a relatively short timeline, but also its
inadequate community engagement. With dozens of organizations and
hundreds of community members dealing with the issue of houselessness,
there should have been far more input into the review. PCW continues to
encourage the Bureau to allow 30 days or more to review Directives,
especially to accommodate advisory bodies' schedules when they often
meet only once every one to two months. In fact, the Portland Committee
for Community Engaged Policing (PCCEP) discussed this Directive at a
subcommittee meeting in November but did not have time to present their
suggestions to their entire group.
We repeat again what we wrote in 2018 and in August: "Our suggestions on
how to make improvements to these policies does not mean we agree with
the underlying premises that allow police to, for instance, take
houseless people's belongings when those people have nowhere else to go.
As long as those underlying laws and policies are in place, we hope to
make police aware of the possible harms that come with enforcing them,
and find ways to mitigate that harm."
We also still believe the Bureau should add letters to the Definitions,
Policy, Procedure and other Sections to avoid having multiple areas with
the same numbers (ie, multiple items called "Section 1"), and return to
its earlier practice of numbering each Definition, as is done in City
Code and State law.
Our comments below refer to the Procedure section unless otherwise
835.20 "Managing Public Spaces"
We will start by acknowledging that the Bureau inserted a reference to
the Idaho court case which gives more rights to people living on the
streets. However, it's not clear that the rest of the Directive reflects
Language matters: Along with the inappropriate new title (as noted
above), the Bureau also is proposing to strike the one use of the word
"houseless" from the Directive, in Policy Section 2, and replace it with
"homeless." This underscores that the City doesn't seem to believe
people can be residents of Portland even if they don't have a physical
house. Other offending language is in the police code for camp sweeps:
"T721- Livability Improvement Project" (2.1.3). Whose livability?
Certainly not the people whose resting place and belongings are
uprooted. Throughout (starting with the Definitions), the Bureau refers
to "camp clean-up efforts" when really the policy is about sweeps.
Generally speaking, the Directive has undergone a major rewrite
reflecting the City's stated policy of minimizing police involvement in
sweeps, even though our contacts with houseless individuals and service
agencies indicate there are almost always PPB officers involved in
sweeps. That said, the City has essentially privatized camp sweeps by
delegating the physical "clean up" activities to the Rapid Response
Bioclean, Clean and Safe and other groups (the players seem to change
As we wrote in August: "There is an ongoing concern that the City has
turned over site cleanups to private security, and [those groups don't]
have to follow the guidelines of [the 2012] Anderson [settlement.]. This
PPB policy should address these issues as best as possible and City
Council should make it clear that any actual or quasi-state actor
seeking to take away houseless persons' possessions needs to follow the
law and the agreement."
The rewrite guts the specifics outlined in that Agreement such as the
exact required timeframe to post a sweep. This used to be 24 hours (old
Section 22.214.171.124) but as we understand it is now 48 hours under the
Bureau's intergovernmental agreement to conduct sweeps on Oregon
Department of Transportation property. Directions about the posting of
24-hour notices in the old Directive are all gone. Policy Section 3 now
says that there must be "appropriate written notice" with no time frame
listed at all. There must be more specific guidelines in a policy of
Our previous comments noted that PPB was responsible to be sure the
rules were being followed around posting notice, giving receipts for
property and not discarding items of value. It is not clear in the new
Directive whose responsibility this is. There are guidelines for
Supervisors to approve sweeps-- including a new kind of sweep of
property not at a recognized campsite known as a "Summary Abatement."
More broadly, the sweeps seem to be complaint driven, pointing to the
Office of Management and Finance's Homelessness/Urban Camping Impact
Reduction Program (Definitions and Policy Section 2). Supervisory
responsibilities include informing complainants when a request for
"cleanup" has been declined (3.2).
In August, we wrote: "The policy should make it easy for people with no
money or means of transportation to retrieve their property." Update:
The entire section about retrieving property (1.2.7) has been cut.
Although officers are required to give property receipts in instances
where they conduct an "Emergency Abatement" (1.3.2) or "Summary
Abatement" (1.3.3),* there is no indication that the private entities
have to give such receipts for those kinds of sweeps or for "coordinated
camp cleanups" (1.3.1). Officers are only required to note the "company
name" in their "General Offense Report" (126.96.36.199.7.2 and 188.8.131.52.4.2).
However, in the case where a "Summary Abatement" only involves
"insanitary property" the officer doesn't even have to write a report,
only to contact someone else to remove the item or items. Imagine if the
police came into your house and said "you know, this bed that's covered
in dog hair is just disgusting," had someone throw it away, and didn't
leave you a notice about it.
The rest of our comments are updates of what we wrote in August, which
the Bureau mostly ignored.
--We asked the Bureau to clarify the meaning of "personal property," a
term which comes from the Anderson agreement's definition of a campsite.
The Bureau's Definition says this means whether items have "apparent
utility," but doesn't differentiate among something as minor as a
newspaper, something with more personal meaning such as photographs, or
even the question of pets-- which the law treats as property but which
have no "apparent utility." We wrote: "Officers should be wary of
disposing of sleeping bags, medications, identification and other
valuables rather than being allowed to decide items are [of no use]."
--Despite officers supposedly only being on site as support for other
agencies conducting sweeps (184.108.40.206), they need to be aware that their
mere presence puts fear into people who are camping.
--Repeat concern: language that used to be in the Tow Policy (630.60
Vehicle Disposition), based on recommendations by the Citizen Review
Committee, asked for autos to be able to be driven away by another
person if the driver is arrested, and asking what valuables in a car
should be noted on property receipts. That language does not appear to
have been re-inserted, and might be considered here.
--Another language issue (raised in August): The word "unlawful" is used
to apply to certain actions. This term still seems pejorative. We
continue to suggest using a phrase such as "actions in violation of City
Code." Update: we thank the Bureau for removing the reference to "law
violators" from the Directive. (old Section 220.127.116.11).
--The last version of the Directive gave one hour for a person to clean
up their site (old Sections 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124), rather than two hours
in a prior version, and PCW called for a longer base time and more
flexibility. Update: the new version only calls for the police to allow
"a reasonable amount of time" (126.96.36.199.3.3).
--Previous comment: It is not clear whether the procedures for State of
Oregon cleanup are listed in the Directive (as per the Anderson
agreement section 1c) to ensure Portland Police follow proper protocol.
If that language is incorporated the reference should be explicit. It is
also not clear whether the proper information about camping in parks is
included (Anderson agreement section 1d).
-Previous comment: It's confusing, and maybe even insulting, that
officers are warned about ensuring their own health and welfare (Policy
Section 4) but only talking about houseless people's "inherent dignity"
(Policy 1) and interacting with them with "compassion and understanding"
(Policy 2). These are good things to support, but houseless people's
health and welfare should also be mentioned.
Here are comments we have been making since 2014 which have not been
--We have heard anecdotes of people having their medication (including
insulin) and identification confiscated by Portland Police, which should
be prohibited by this Directive.
--The Directive should address what happens when notices are posted on
weekends or holidays, when JOIN and other support agencies are closed.
After the Oregonian's report and the Independent Police Review's follow
up about the large number of arrests by police being of houseless
persons, we would hope the Bureau would move toward a more compassionate
and enlightened way to approach people living on the streets. Instead,
it seems that the language and policies are set up to remove people's
ability to file formal complaints about people acting on the City's
behalf, continue to disparage people who choose to-- or have few choices
other than to-- sleep in public spaces. We worry that the loud voices of
vigilante neighbors are being heard above the voices of community
members who are being harmed by private citizens, unaccountable
companies, and our local police.
The PCCEP was able to mention the review of this policy at their
November full Committee meeting as something that was of concern to its
members, but as noted above did not have time to collectively comment.
Portland Copwatch once again asks that the Bureau make meaningful
changes to this policy, improve community engagement and expand the
public feedback process.
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment
dan handelman and other members of
*- the specific sections about property receipts are 188.8.131.52.7.1 and
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