We love our city and care about everyone who lives here. As community members who support effective community safety interventions that prioritize healing and accountability, highly skilled unarmed first responders like Portland Street Response (PSR) are exactly what we need more of. In spite of PSR’s success, recent Council action has demonstrated a lack of support for the popular program that makes Portland safer for all.
We are asking the Portland City Council to stick to their promise that they would champion and expand Portland Street Response by taking the following action:
1. End the hiring freeze imposed on Portland Street Response and adequately fund PSR to meet citywide demand 24/7, as promised by City Council.
Last year, Portland Street Response was funded for 24/7 citywide coverage by a unanimous City Council vote, with an expectation that PSR would operate 24/7 by early 2023. This year, Council has reduced its budget and imposed a hiring freeze, preventing PSR from hiring to full capacity. This additionally jeopardizes their chance at receiving federal or state funding.
2. Remove restrictions on the purchase of life-saving supplies used to provide services, build community trust and de-escalate 911 calls.
Portland Street Response employees de-escalate 911 calls involving people in crisis and save lives using supplies like naloxone, water bottles, and clothing. They are now facing restrictions on the purchase and distribution of the supplies they need to do their job.
3. Allow Portland Street Response to respond to more 911 call types, such as appropriate calls inside residences or involving a potential suicide attempt.
The Portland Police Association has been blocking Portland Street Response from being dispatched to 911 calls that involve responding inside a residence or to a potential suicide. The United States Department of Justice recommended PSR be allowed to respond to these call types to help bring the City of Portland into compliance with an ongoing 2014 settlement agreement due to a pattern of unconstitutional use of force by Portland police against people with mental illness. The City of Portland remains out of compliance.
In order to establish trust with the clients Portland Street Response serves, experts, survey results and independent evaluations have strongly recommended Portland Street Response not be involved in enforcement activities. In spite of this, PSR was recently directed to be involved in the enforcement of laws pertaining to those living without shelter - a community that includes many of PSR’s clients.
5. Establish Portland Street Response as a co-equal branch of our first responder network located within a supportive environment in Portland city government.
Recent media has exposed a hostile and unsupportive work environment for Portland Street Response workers. A recent Portland State University evaluation of PSR included a recommendation to consider transferring PSR from Portland Fire & Rescue to the Community Safety Division (CSD) or to create a new bureau of alternative response programs.
Save Portland Street Response!
Number of signatures: 11940
Portland Street Response is a police-alternative, unarmed 911 response option that assists people experiencing mental and behavioral health crises.
This first major update to our 911 response system in over a century began as a community call to ensure we send the right first responder to each 911 call. The Portland Police Bureau continues to remain out of compliance with a 2014 Department of Justice settlement due to a pattern of unconstitutional use of force against individuals with mental illness. Additionally, the Oregonian reported that more than half of all arrests made by PPB were of people experiencing homelessness – creating an expensive, ineffective cycle of incarceration for low level offenses while adding additional barriers to housing and services.
For nonviolent incidents involving individuals in crisis, Portlanders wanted 911 to send help, not handcuffs. An enormous coalition of public support including elected officials, small business owners, civil right advocates, and Portlanders throughout the city led to the creation of the Portland Street Response pilot project in the Lents neighborhood. The new 911 response team was developed in a methodical, collaborative process that involved extensive consultation with outside experts, community stakeholders, and City bureaus. A contract with Portland State University was established to provide an independent assessment every 6 months to help steer the program’s growth, and provide ongoing expert perspective.
3 primary goals were established for Portland Street Response.
- Reduce the number of calls traditionally responded to by police where no crime is being committed.
- Reduce the number of behavioral health and non-emergency calls traditionally responded to by police and fire.
- Reduce the number of medically non-life-threatening 911 calls that are transported to the emergency department.
The pilot was a resounding success, and Portland Street Response continued to expand beyond the pilot phase of operation to daily citywide coverage between 10am – 8pm. Last year, the Portland City Council unanimously praised the program and approved funding that intended to expand Portland Street Response to 24/7 coverage.
The Portland Tribune editorial board wrote: “The decision to expand Portland Street Response is the very definition of good public policy: Come up with an innovative solution to a problem; pilot it on a limited basis; have it audited by outsiders; and if it succeeds, then pour money into it.”
Last Fall, elected leaders from around the country came to visit Portland Street Response to learn how to bring this successful model to their constituents.
As OPB reported in December 2022, Portland Street Response ended the year continuing to meet its goals and was on track to be fully staffed and operating 24/7 throughout Portland by early 2023:
“Even though the program does not have the support structures of a longstanding department, like PPB, independent evaluations of the program by Portland State University researchers have consistently given it high marks. The most recent report, released on Dec. 15, found Portland Street Response teams responded to more than 3,200 calls after expanding citywide in April. There was a more than 3% reduction in calls that would have normally gone to police, a nearly 19% reduction in police response to non-emergency welfare checks or “unwanted persons” calls and a more than 3% reduction in fire department responses to behavioral health calls or illegal burn calls. The evaluation also reported extremely high satisfaction rates, 4.7 out of 5 stars, from Portland Street Response clients.”
As 2023 began, local media continued to report on the promise of Portland Street Response and expectations that the program would soon expand to 24/7 coverage. In a preview of anticipated growth, Portland Business Journal noted a recent poll where 70% of respondents supported the expansion of Portland Street Response. The future of Portland Street Response was looking bright.
Unfortunately, recent Council action has demonstrated a lack of support for Portland Street Response at Portland City Hall. Despite success and popular support, Council has taken the following actions over the last 6 months:
- Ordered a hiring freeze preventing PSR from filling positions unanimously funded by Council just last year. This has prevented PSR from having the staff capacity to expand to 24/7 coverage.
- Reduced Portland Street Response’s budget.
- Restricted the supplies Portland Street Response workers use to de-escalate 911 calls involving people in crisis.
- Threatened to privatize Portland Street Response just as PSR workers were signing a tentative agreement on their first collective bargaining agreement as a new union.
- Ignored an unsupportive work environment for Portland Street Response workers.
- Ordered PSR to be involved in enforcement activities against expert advice.
- Refused to release the Portland State University 2 year independent evaluation on Portland Street Response.
- Failed to retain Portland Street Responses’s original Program Director, who resigned.
It is clear that this incredibly popular, effective, and desperately needed program is now at risk.
As Friends of Portland Street Response, we are united in our unequivocal support for the original goals of PSR and the specific actions needed to restore and support the program.