Portland, Oregon rejects bid to cut $18M more from police

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Back the Blue police supporters, left, stand next to Black Lives Matter protesters calling for defunding the police, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — City commissioners in Portland, Oregon on Thursday rejected a budget amendment that would have slashed another $18 million from the Portland Police Bureau amid months of racial justice protests and shifted the money to the city’s pandemic response.

The commission voted 3-2 against the amendment, which had been proposed by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the first Black woman on the elected body that acts like a city council.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also police commissioner, was one of three commissioners who voted last week to delay a vote on the budget amendment until after Tuesday’s election. Wheeler won a second term and voted “no” on the amendment Thursday.

“Last week, we heard that it won’t require layoffs, which is wrong. It will require layoffs. This is not a detail. This is a critical piece of information,” he said before voting no.

“The testimony we’ve heard is clear: the status quo is unacceptable. Many Portlanders, and most of the people who testified about this item, do not trust the current criminal legal system — they do not trust the Police Bureau,” he said, adding that he nonetheless felt cutting the police budget further was not the solution.

The commission voted in June to cut nearly $16 million from the police — eliminating school resource officers, transit police and a gun violence reduction unit — and the force has also suffered pandemic-related budget cuts.

Police accountability has been a driving issue in Portland since the killing of George Floyd in May and was one of the biggest issues in the mayor’s race. Portland has been roiled by five months of near-nightly Black Lives Matter protests and Wheeler has come under intense criticism for what many see as an overly aggressive police force.

A challenger to Wheeler’s left who attended dozens of protests against racial injustice and police brutality almost beat him by doubling down on a platform of police reform and proposed police budget cuts of $50 million, among other things.

And while protests around the country focused on the vote count in the U.S. presidential election this week, protests in Portland were centered on racial injustice and police brutality.

On Thursday, a day after demonstrators smashed windows in the downtown, a group of protesters stood in heavy rain for several hours to call for authorities to reopen an investigation into the fatal police shooting death of a 27-year-old Black man two years ago.

A grand jury in 2018 concluded that officers were justified in opening fire on Patrick Kimmons. Authorities said Kimmons was armed and had already fired shots at two other men when police showed up and fired 12 shots, striking him nine times.

Kimmons’ death has nonetheless been one of two recent police shootings at the forefront of protesters’ demands for police reform and his mother holds weekly protests calling for authorities to reopen the case.

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