Last week the President of the Portland Police Association posted a blunt message on Facebook in which he described the city as a “cesspool.” He was referring to problems associated with a growing homeless population in the city. A subsequent online poll started by a local news outlet showed respondents overwhelmingly agreed with his pessimistic characterization of the city. Here’s a sample of PPA President Daryl Turner’s statement:

Our City has become a cesspool. Livability that once made Portland a unique and vibrant city is now replaced with human feces in businesses doorways, in our parks, and on our streets. Aggressive panhandlers block the sidewalks, storefronts, and landmarks like Pioneer Square, discouraging people from enjoying our City. Garbage-filled RVs and vehicles are strewn throughout our neighborhoods. Used needles, drug paraphernalia, and trash are common sights lining the streets and sidewalks of the downtown core area, under our bridges, and freeway overpasses. That’s not what our families, business owners, and tourists deserve.

Mayor Wheeler’s public policies have failed. Record tax revenues are being brought into the City; yet what do we have to show for it? I am incensed that once again the Mayor has thrown Portland Police Officers under the bus instead of saying what we all know to be true: that his proposed solutions to our homelessness crisis have failed. What we need is for our City and County leaders to take responsibility for this crisis getting out of hand. They need to put forth actual solutions with actual results and stop throwing hard-earned taxpayer dollars down a black hole.

Turner was responding to statements by Mayor Wheeler who recently learned that just over half (52%) of all arrests made by Portland police in 2017 were of homeless people. At a press conference, the mayor wondered aloud whether “profiling or implicit bias” were partly to blame.

The mayor said people who are experiencing homelessness or who have mental health and addiction issues should have fewer interactions with police and more with social service providers…

“The real question here is, ‘Is there some sort of profiling or implicit bias?'” Wheeler said. “From my perspective, that’s the crux of the situation. The police should be focused on policing criminal activity, and that’s sort of the beginning, the middle and the end of it for me.”

It’s fair to say that there’s an element of city politics being played here by the Police Association, but Turner has apparently tapped into a deep well of dissatisfaction among many Portland residents. Sunday the PPA posted a screenshot of a local news poll showing that 95% of respondents agreed with the cesspool comment. Yesterday, Turner put out another statement thanking the community for statements of support and discussing what to do next:

Thank you to our members and the citizens of Portland for the overwhelming support and encouragement this past week as we voiced grave concerns about the policies surrounding livability in our city. We received thousands of positive comments, phone calls, emails, letters, and text messages thanking the PPA for shining a bold light on these issues. Your concerns and frustrations are palpable and according to a KGW poll, 95% agree that our city has gone downhill.

No one sees the burden of livability issues more clearly than the rank and file officers who are out on the streets every day answering the calls for service.

So, let’s talk solutions which should include access to housing, especially for displaced families (transitional to permanent); enforcing current laws; and building a strong and sustainable network of addiction treatment services, mental health services, and job placement opportunities.

Portland is not alone in dealing with this problem. In fact, the problem is worse in Seattle, which recently passed and then revoked a head tax aimed at providing funding to combat homelessness. San Francisco is also struggling. The city recently lost a major medical convention over concerns about people on the street. Even more conservative Orange County in southern California has been dealing with a growing homeless problem.

Here’s a local news report about the PPA President’s comments.