Friday, April 13, 2007

Street Roots most opinionated issue ever on the streets!

Street Roots most opinionated issue ever includes columns from the ACLU slamming the sit-lie ordinance, the Northwest Constitutional Rights Center's take on private police downtown and a column from a member of the Charter Review Commission. Cover stories include "Uniform Accountability" about private security downtown and a great piece on the strong mayor front with opinions on all sides, and from Seattle City Council member Peter Steinbrueck. Street Roots editorial calls for public oversight of the Portland Patrol Inc. and Act Now ask readers to call Senators to say no to fast-track legislation that would export thousands of Oregon jobs.

Street Roots editorial: Private forces need public oversight

The hallmark of any government is transparency and accountability to the public it serves, but when public entities privatize services, there is almost always a compromise. Currently, the city has downtown security contracted through the Portland Business Alliance, a private organization serving business interests in downtown Portland. The PBA, in turn, contracts with another private company, Portland Patrol, Inc., to provide that security. There is no direct contract between the city and the armed guards patrolling the downtown area, even though they are monitoring our streets with the power to exclude people from public parks (They’ve issued more than 300 exclusions this winter). And as a private entity, the security personnel are not under the authority of the Independent Police Review or the Citizens Review Commission, which review complaints by citizens against police officers.

John Hren, CEO of PPI, assures us that his company has a good record and very seldom receives any complaints about security performance. Indeed, the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, the regulatory agency for private security firms, (What, never heard of them?) says it has received no complaints.

But the underlying issue is that the citizens of Portland should have oversight on how their public policies are being implemented, including channels of redress for problems that arise. And equally important, that process needs to be accessible to everyone. Even for the most government savvy citizen, navigating the channels of police oversight in Portland can be a time-consuming challenge. For people living through crisis situations, surviving on the streets, it can be impossible. Given the barriers of time, money and accessibility, it is virtually assured through privatization that people on the streets who feel that their rights were violated by security officers have no independent redress at their disposal.

This summer, the City Council is expected to reinstate the sit-lie ordinance, a measure strongly supported by the PBA. It will ban people from sitting or lying on the sidewalks in the downtown and Lloyd Center districts from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Most of the time, it will be the private security forces that will engage the people on the streets. It’s time for the city to engage in their oversight.

So many of the ordinances directed at the streets are open to the discretion of individual police officers. And in those gray areas is where some people have been squeezed. For example, through public oversight of police, we are able to know of disturbing racial disparities in drug-free zone exclusions and police stops. It’s a matter of public record and discussion. As a result, we have a city committee addressing racial profiling, involving police officers and social justice advocates. Consider how this would play out in the private security sector. Right now, it wouldn’t. But if security officers are out there reporting for the police, issuing park exclusions and questioning people on public property, the public should have equal opportunity to get answers in return.

Directors Desk: The Street Roots and Dignity Village benefit was a success. While we didn’t pack the place, Artis the Spoonman and Jim Page gave us a wonderful performance. Bob Brenner, a Street Roots vendor, opened up the night and brought the house down. You can catch Bob playing and selling Street Roots in front of the downtown library. Thanks everyone for coming out to the show!

We would like to thank Lee Larson and the Larson Legacy for donating $15,000 to the organization this month. The money will go toward empowering vendors and improving the quality of the newspaper — two key components of our strategic plan.
The Street Roots special edition on New Orleans was one of the organization’s better selling papers. Vendors had customers buy several papers at a time to hand out to friends. We hope we were able to engage the public long enough to look at the newspaper as a professional news source, not a charity buy for homeless folks. People experiencing homelessness have pride. Street Roots vendors have pride. We work hard to deliver interesting and important news to Portlanders so vendors have a product they believe in and readers have a credible news source.

This issue includes stories on the strong mayor charter reform debate and a look at Portland Patrol — a private security group that has the power to give exclusions in public places. Both stories are by journalist and Managing Editor Joanne Zuhl. Zuhl came to Street Roots four years ago as a volunteer after working for 14 years at daily newspapers. She has made the newspaper what it is today. The organization tends to focus on vendors and the issues at hand, but we couldn’t do what we do without Zuhl’s experience and fire. More so, the organization couldn’t be what it is today without the many writers who take the time to write for the newspaper. Whether it’s a beautiful poem or piece of art inspired by the streets, or columns written by professionals in their respected fields – we couldn’t put out a quality newspaper without the zeal of everyday people working to change the world in which we live.

That brings us to you, the reader who buys the newspaper from vendors throughout the Portland region. We thank you for taking the time to not only buy the newspaper, but to read the newspaper. It’s clear to us the people who work with individuals on the streets who don’t read our paper vs. those who do. Thank you for keeping us in your rotation of news in a world full of endless media and distraction. We can change the world we live in together – through education, relationship building and by taking action!

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