City Forces Saltzman to Publish Cops’ Secret List

From the Portland Mercury, October 28, 2009

Dragging it Out of Him : City Forces Saltzman to Publish Cops’ Secret List

A majority of City Council finally forced Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman to publish a secret list of frequent arrestees last week.

The list names those arrested most frequently in Old Town, inner Southeast Portland, and parts of North/Northeast Portland, and is a replacement for the city’s controversial “drug-free zones” program, which was disbanded in late 2007 following race disparity concerns.

A month ago, Saltzman said he had decided to keep the list secret, to protect the identity of people on it—many of whom are offered drug treatment. However, these same people are being charged with a felony for what would normally be treated as misdemeanor drug possession. Randy Leonard appeared to back down from the argument, saying he disagreed, but respected Saltzman’s authority as police commissioner. But last week, Leonard came back for more.

Initially, Mayor Sam Adams suggested releasing only the demographic information of people on the list, after criticism from Copwatch activist Dan Handelman, but Leonard interrupted to disagree. “There’s no legal justification for keeping the names secret,” he said, accusing Saltzman of “not serving the best interest of the program, or even the people in the program.”

“It’s time to end this charade of allowing those who would attack this program for various reasons to hang their hat on the list,” Leonard continued.

Saltzman said, “Certain elements of the press are just clamoring to get the names in print,” referring first to “the Mercury and Willamette Week,” and later, specifically, to the Mercury, which first discovered the list’s existence in April 2008, and has been a continuing advocate for its publication.

“You can dress up the issue anyway you like,” said Saltzman. “But these are people, they are individuals, they are job applicants, and I don’t necessarily think they want to pick up the Mercury and see their names in the paper.”

Leonard then brought his daughter into the argument. He again accused Saltzman’s police bureau of leaking details about his daughter to the press—apparently referencing a Willamette Week story from last October, describing her entry into drug treatment as an “open secret” at city hall. Leonard directed a long stare in Saltzman’s direction as he made those remarks.

Then, Leonard said, “You get to the point—when you have a child and they become an item for the police department—the least of your worries is [that] somehow the Mercury or the Willamette Week publishes their names. You’re worried if you’re going to get a call from the coroner.”

The vote came as an amendment on the payment of $1.2 million more into the program, to fund ongoing drug treatment and rehabilitation for 53 people. City Commissioner Nick Fish supported the payment, but pointed out: “For an equivalent investment we can tackle about 40 percent of the homeless problem on the streets of Portland.”

“We’re talking about a substantial investment of public resources,” Fish continued.

OUR COMMENT – This inane debate is of interest to the Mental Health Association of Portland only because we acquired a copy of the “secret list” today. It holds the names and birthdates of several hundred accused streetcorner drug dealers and addicts.

Instead of sending these folks through drug court, as is done in hundreds of communities nationwide, and instead of funding voluntary addiction treatment, our police have created a secondary system, purchasing one template of services for all persons, then essentially blackmailing individuals into compliance.

However, we hear there have been successes, and appreciate the creativity of the police response to the idiotic short-sightedness of the state legislature, and until the past year, Multnomah County.

So we want some data: Who has received treatment (no names, please)? What sort of treatment have they received? What is the outcome of the program? What happens when people fail the program? What happens when they succeed?

All of this has been hidden by Dan Saltzman, thinking the papers would publish the list of names. So far they haven’t.