08/12/18 Earl Blumenauer

Century of Lies
Earl Blumenauer

This week on Century: more exclusive coverage of Congressman Earl Blumenauer's community forum on ending the war on drugs, which was held in Portland, Oregon on August First, including audio from Portland Police Bureau Deputy Chief Robert Day and Congressman Blumenauer.

Audio file



AUGUST 12, 2018

DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Welcome to Century Of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Last week, we brought you part one of a public community forum that was organized by Congressman Earl Blumenauer on the topic of ending the war on drugs. That forum was held August First in Portland, Oregon.

Today, we're continuing with part two of that coverage. Our first speaker is Portland Police Bureau's Deputy Chief Robert Day.

PPB DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF ROBERT DAY: ... in point, it doesn't make any sense, but then of course, I'm not landing there in terms of the human cost that occurs, and the harm that we know of for people entering and processing through the criminal justice system.

Now, I say that, I want to be clear, I'm unapologetically proud to be a police officer, to be a Portland police officer, and to have served in this profession for nearly three decades, and the work that the men and women of the police bureau do, I'm also exceptionally proud of.

In 2017, we responded to almost 375,000 calls for service. About 45 percent of those calls would fall in the category of what we're talking about tonight, in terms of, we call the disorders, so, an unwanted person, suspicious behavior, things of that nature. For example, this morning as I was coming to work, we sent two officers to a call downtown here off of Main Street of a man sleeping on the sidewalk with his feet standing out into traffic -- out into traffic.

Or the call yesterday of the man throwing knives at the tree over on the Springwater Corridor by Station 21, underneath the Hawthorne Bridge. You know, I -- what I don't want to understate is that the scope of this challenge is really significant. You know, our officers are responding to literally thousands and thousands of calls a month, around behavior associated with, once again, the discussion we're having, and I'm not embarrassed or afraid to say that's not a police problem.

But, we are the best social outreach worker going, because 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you can call somebody and the police will answer the phone. So we have become that default. And one of my criticisms would be, although I'm absolutely passionate about diversion, and I'm absolutely passionate about looking for other options, for this specific population we're talking about, is the system has changed behind the police but hasn't changed on the front end.

We still call the police for these problems, and so the police have given -- been given very few options. LEAD is an example of an option, but really at the end of the day, when it's two o'clock in the morning, and we're standing there with the individual who's, you know, for whatever reason, maybe broken out a window or defecated in the doorway of a business, and the business owner is standing there and we're faced with what are our options, what are our choices.

We know that, you know, a 48th arrest is not going to make the difference here. We get it. But it's two thirty in the morning. There are not a whole lot of people that are picking up the phone to come and intercede and create other options. And one way to resolve that situation, frankly, is to go to jail.

And that brings a resolution for the moment, for the time, but it's equally frustrating, this isn't an excuse, I'm not making an excuse, but it's equally frustrating for the police officer who's writing that report and sees the person walk out of jail an hour and a half later, knowing that really we didn't solve anything, we didn't resolve anything, in fact we've just created more cumbersome work in the process.

Out of that 375,000 calls for service, Portland police made less than five percent arrests in those calls. So, you know, that's not an arrest-first mentality that we're talking about. But there is a role for law enforcement, I say all that, there is a role for law enforcement. There is a role for public safety in this conversation.

I appreciate the Congressman's leadership, and the conversation being led to less about, somebody said it better than I do, but, you know, less about the addiction or the health issue we're talking about. But there still is a crime, public safety nexus that we do have to be concerned about.

And people are calling us a lot, on a regular basis, about these challenges, and so, my encouragement is that we not only are focusing on the criminal justice system, but I think we're missing the mark with the police. We're looking at less jails, you're not going to get an argument out of me about less jails, less jail space, less diversion opportunities, less addiction recovery.

The Police Bureau has programs, we spend out of the Police Bureau budget millions of dollars around the service coordination team. We have officers dedicated to LEAD. I created a two person homeless outreach team in Central Precinct, two police officers who spend their entire day doing homeless outreach work. They had 125 people in Central Precinct get into housing in the past year, according to Cascadia Behavioral Health over 75 percent of them are still in housing.

We have partnerships all across the city, with many, many outreach providers, and have a service-first attitude around these behavior problems that we get called to. You know, a person standing on the street corner screaming in downtown, it's not illegal to stand on a street corner and scream downtown, yet we have to send two officers there because of the way that the system's designed.

And they get there, now they're faced with, you know, people upset about this, but behavior that's not necessarily illegal, we run into many, many, many of these. And another point the Congressman made, if we can get a handle on some of this, you know, I shudder to say we either need less police or maybe the police could be focusing on some of the more significant public safety challenges of the day.

So you're not going to get an argument out of me tonight in terms of whether or not we should be going to the -- whether or not, you know, this is where the arena the police are in -- should be in. I don't think they are, but the reality is, we are.

And, as a structure, as a system, you know, I'm open to suggestions, an idea about how the police can get out of that, out of that business, out of that conversation. And, you know, I look forward to your input, I'm encouraged by the turn-out.

I'm going to share -- this is a risk, but I'm going to share, on a personal note, Congressman, I want to thank you for your advocacy. It was two years ago this month that we lost our son to Ewing sarcoma, he was fifteen years old. It's a horrible cancer that he fought bravely for six years.

We went all over this country seeking treatment, some of the best doctors in America, in Houston and Dallas and of course Doernbecher's, et cetera. Late into his battle, in 2016, my lovely bride, who was a passionate advocate for our boy, finally had the courage to come to me and tell me she'd been thinking about medical marijuana as an option for Sam.

And I couldn't help but be stunned at the irony, that twenty-some odd years of law enforcement, and now my bride is standing in front of me saying I think this is an option for our son. And, how tirelessly she worked to research, to understand, and really was forced to go out of state and speak with people in California and other places that were more progressive, along this conversation.

And, I'm thinking, the irony here is amazing. Right? I mean, I actually, you know, met with the city attorney, like, can I even do this, can we even have this conversation? She's talking about, you know, going to California, bringing drugs up, I'm like, that is way across the line.

But, you know, she figured it out, and we went through the system, and her and Sam got a medical marijuana card, and, you know, we had all these ATM debit purchases around the city, where, you know, a hundred dollars here, a hundred and twenty. She learned the system, she learned how to have the conversation. I am losing my mind at the same time. It doesn't make any difference, because I'm faced with this stark reality.

Unfortunately, you know, because of dosage requirements, I mean, we did use -- we did use cannabis in, you know, the final stages of Sam's -- in Sam's treatment. But I am a firm believer that, in my lifetime, I hope that we move forward and see the benefit of that for our patients today.

I think that because of the treatment, of the attitude towards that, towards cannabis, over the many, many years in this country, we are behind. And, you know, to this day, we have very few regrets, other than losing our son, of course, but one of the regrets is we didn't maybe start in that conversation earlier, that we -- we explored diet, and once again we saw great physicians all over, the naturopaths, et cetera et cetera, but that's an area where we believe -- we wish we would have started earlier. And, maybe had created more hope and more opportunity.

And we also wish that, in spite of our phenomenal medical system and the amazing support we had, that there would have been more medical professionals willing to step up and say, hey, this is something maybe you should have thought about at an earlier time. So thank you for your advocacy in that, and, you know, you're going to have a supporter in me down the road if -- if you want to have that conversation on a broader scale. So thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Portland Police Bureau Deputy Chief Robert Day, speaking at a public forum organized by Congressman Earl Blumenauer on August First. The topic was ending the war on drugs. And, folks, apologies for audio quality issues, the venue itself had problems with its sound system, there was problems with proper electrics. The content, I hope you think it's worth it. Thank you for putting up with it.

You are listening to Century of Lies. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

I got a chance to ask Chief Day a couple of quick questions at the end of that forum. Here's that audio.

The question I guess is, now, LEAD, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. Excellent -- it's an excellent program, but currently there are only 15 officers who are actually part of LEAD, at least according to Central City Concern's Karen Kern, in fact I talked to Karen and Deborah Kafouri just a few weeks ago about it. How can we get more officers involved in the -- in that program, what can we do to convince those people at city hall and the rest of -- and the public, for that matter, to support expanding that program?

DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF ROBERT DAY: Right. It really is just a capacity issue, you know, it's about resource allocation, and so, you know, LEAD, we've been doing it now for a year or two, I can't remember exactly, maybe two years, and so, what I want to do is go back, look at the numbers and the results, and then, you know, if we can show that it's having that impact that we believe it is, then I think there's an opportunity for expansion, you know, outside of the downtown core.

It's really primarily been folks downtown and a little bit over in Northeast, so the idea of trying to take that broader? It is also a little bit challenging because, although the populations are the same, you know, the encounters can be different in, like east county versus Old Town, or something like that.

So, in the downtown core, for example, we have officers that are -- it's easier to get around, and they're kind of more concentrated. You start getting out in the east county, you start getting into Northeast and Saint John's, it's more spread out. So that's also a challenge in terms of, you know, getting -- getting the right amount of people in place to be able to address it and still take calls for service.

But, I'm certainly open to that conversation.

DOUG MCVAY: And as I was talking with Chair Kafoury, it's not just a culture change within law enforcement, to look at arrests as a last resort. It's also about the changing the culture of our neighbors out there, who seem to want to call police, call 911, whenever they -- whenever someone offends them by their presence, you know, the -- handle it, handle it, you know, and it's just -- how on earth do we change some of the attitudes of people here, to stop relying on law enforcement for just dealing with people who are offending them by their very presence? I mean it's ....

DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF ROBERT DAY: Well, we have to continue doing an education campaign, you know, and really, make people aware of other resources that are available to them. I'm never going to fault somebody for calling 911, I understand the frustration, I understand the difficulty that they're faced with, and, but I think if we can do a better job of educating and, you know, both from the law enforcement perspective but also as a community-wide effort to try and make sure people know that doesn't have to be your first call.

And then, you know, challenging our civic leaders, both in the county and the city and the state, to provide those resources so they do have options other than us.

DOUG MCVAY: Chief Day, thank you so much.

DEPUTY POLICE CHIEF ROBERT DAY: You bet. Good luck to you. Take care, thank you very much.

DOUG MCVAY: Thank you, sir.

We're listening to audio from a community forum that was held August First in Portland, Oregon. The topic was 'Ending the War on Drugs.' The forum was organized by Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

There was time for members of the public to ask questions after the panelists had spoken. Let's listen in on one.

HAVEN WHEELOCK: Hello. I'm Haven Wheelock, and I have had the honor and privilege of working with people who actively inject drugs, including methamphetamine and heroin, for the last 16 years. And I will honestly say, I'm going to echo what I've heard from this panel that we have seen a lot of shift in how we talk about drugs and how we talk about drug users.

My concern is, is that we're not seeing a shift in how we fund services for people who are using drugs, and how we fund services for access to medications, and I think, I just had the wonderful privilege of going to Vancouver, BC, and getting to tour some of their drug user services in BC -- sorry, I'm going to cry.

And it was just really enlightening how they took on this really holistic four-pillar approach that involved equally funding prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement. And really prioritized all four of those things, in equal fashion, to save lives.

And we're currently dealing with a crisis like we've never seen. I personally lost eight people I knew in July. Just, not all overdose, but drug related illness, and I'm wondering how we can dare, how do we move from talking about just treatment or just prevention, or just enforcement, and how do we really engage this idea that people are using drugs in our community and we don't want them to die? That's all.


RACHEL SOLOTAROFF, MD: First of all, thank you, Haven, because I've watched you sort of carry this torch in many ways, and in many states, and in many forums, and now at a national and international level, so you're a huge asset to our community and I really appreciate all the work that you do.

I'll give my typical sort of, now that an administrator, my administrative wonky answer, which is, again, we can't -- it's not one size fits all, and it's not a separate solution for everybody else, and I think in many places, whether it's treatment or housing or we -- we fund it in silos, and we support it in silos, and we lose the opportunity, and I think this comes from the feds to the state to our local government, we lose the opportunity to say, how do our -- how -- not all people who use drugs are the same, and they're not all different. How do they hang together in different types of groups and communities, that then we can deeply understand and bear resources upon?

Because, you're -- you know, a pregnant woman with opioid use disorder who's using heroin and wants to get her kid out of foster care needs a different set of services and law enforcement and support than, you know, somebody who is 60 years old that has cirrhosis from alcohol use disorder and just doesn't want to live in the hospital or on the street.

So, I think it's incumbent on us to be deeply curious, and relentless, in understanding who different groups who people are, and then how we align, and leverage, the scarce resources that we have to not only help that person, but to produce a kind of, this, sort of a global, humanistic return on investment, in terms of people staying alive, less incarceration costs, less unnecessary healthcare costs.

So I know that's wonky, but, I think we tend to, as you're saying, drive towards these different siloed solutions, and I deeply believe that the answer is at the level of the community.

SHANNON WRIGHT: I just want to add, because then we're going to have to take one quick question and let Congressman Blumenauer wrap up, but, one really practical thing, as someone who's been trying to do reform for at least a quarter century now, is take lawmakers, let's get lawmakers like Congressman Blumenauer, our federal lawmakers and our state lawmakers, up to see that, because it is hard to have a vision.

I'm guessing you cried for that, because, the same way I saw the Missouri juvenile justice system, you couldn't believe it was possible, and how transformative it would be, and I think we have to get our decisionmakers, also our police officers, our case workers, to see what's possible, because it's hard to imagine sometimes.

So let's take one more quick question, quick, and then we'll let --

BOBBIN SINGH: Could I just ... ?


BOBBIN SINGH: I just wanted to follow up. I really appreciate your question, and I do think, like, figuring out the next steps is the challenge, but there's two things going on, which as Shannon said, is that all this is, we created it. It's all manmade. We created it. We can imagine something different very easily.

So, I think now is the time to be bold, you know, and put out every idea that you have, engage with lawmakers, engage with law enforcement, engage with social service providers. Get them to see examples of how things can be different. Because it can be, this is not how it has to be.

But, just to push back on your comment as far as that we have made progress in the language, and how we talk about drug use, like, you know, in the field that I work in, and primarily with people who are intersecting with the criminal justice system, most of the policies are driven by fear and hysteria, and the combination of the politics of fear and anger.

And -- and the language which we use to describe people in this country right now, in this state, and how we're -- the level of dehumanization that's occurring, it's a real thing, and that does not allow us to actually take those next steps. So I think we're still at that initial conversation about how to talk about this, how to talk about the folks that are -- that are being impacted by this war on drugs, as our neighbors, as our community members, as individuals that we need to take care of.

So, I think we're still there, and when I see the -- all the policies and the decision making largely sort of push the criminal justice system, how they're so disconnected from science and research and evidence based practices, and how it's all based on fear and hysteria and just, you know, locking people up because we just don't like them, or we should be scared of them, or something like that, it's phenomenal, and I think it's a battle that we're still in the middle of.

And so, please keep pushing on the language thing and the values thing.

DAVE: Hi, my name is Dave. I've been working in the community justice field for 21 years here, and I think we definitely need to do some bold and progressive things that we're not doing.

I'm very familiar with the LEAD program. Like Chief, Deputy Day, said, you are the front line. I would rather not see you as the front line. I think we need to make -- we as a community need to expect more from our community and expect other people, like Project Respond, and put more funding into mental health so we can have mental health do the work instead of police.

When we see a report from earlier in the summer from the Oregon -- Oregonian, saying that one out of every two police arrests from Portland police is homeless, I think that's unacceptable. I think we've spent an hour and a half here, and we have not talked about the most powerful person in the entire criminal justice system, and that person's not here. That's Rod Underhill from the [Multnomah County] District Attorney's Office.

There needs to be some changes on the front line, and changes on what we decide to convict or not.

DOUG MCVAY: This public forum on ending the war on drugs was organized by Congressman Earl Blumenauer, it's only right that we give Earl the last words.

CONGRESSMAN EARL BLUEMANUER: And thank you all for being here. I appreciate the passion, and the range of things people are involved with.

This is an area where part of it is reflecting priorities in our community. We need to do a better of reflecting these issues and concerns as priorities. But, is the energy that's moving forward in terms of ballot measures that are out there, we've got a housing one coming up. We have lots of other initiatives that people throw out, that really don't speak to this fundamental disconnect.

And I think it -- it needs to be more deeply embedded as a priority for business, for individuals, for churches. I mean, people, I think, are aware, but I don't think it's been translated into action.

And one other area that I -- I don't want to go all wonky on you, but, one of the things I've attempted to do, repeatedly, in sessions for the last five years, is to understand the costs of failure.

How much police resources are caught up with things that you really aren't equipped to be able to deal with meaningfully? Other than just quiet the disturbance and hope that does it. We still are having people in emergency rooms who can't be treated, but we just don't have any other place for them. How much does it cost OHSU [Oregon Health Sciences University] to deal with the dysfunction that you're talking about in terms of people who have substance abuse, or housing, have inadequate health?

The cost of failure follows us. And it is something that I, personally, have been attempting to get people to quantify. What does it cost Multnomah County to be prosecuting lower level drug offenses that are not probably going to change behaviors, and get in the way of other criminal justice activities?

I think that this is an area we really need to insist on better accountability, of what does it cost the school district, because there isn't appropriate family support, and just like law enforcement, teachers end up being social workers, mental health counselors, dealing with health, substituting for parents.

And, it's no wonder that maybe they're trying to have a disruptive student moved out, because they're at the end of their rope with 35 students. And, it seems to me that if we do a better job of being able to identify and segregate the costs of failure, I think we'll be able to do a better job of re-allocating on the front lines, be able to have the peer counselors that you want, be able to have a mental health professional on-site, be able to have some counseling support in schools for teachers that are spun out, have people who can help parents who are unable to cope with a kid out of control.

I mean, I don't mean to rationalize this, but I just think that the context of what people are facing with now is so much more complex, and heated, and in an age of Twitter, and really nasty, vile communication, and politics that are -- make you feel like you want to take a shower, this is -- this compounds.

The high school that I went to in east Portland, when I went there a thousand years ago there were five minorities. Now, I'm not talking about black, and Hispanic, I'm talking about five minorities. Two African Americans, one Hispanic, and two Asians. And now there are 57 countries of origin that they're trying to deal with.

So, I mean, I -- it's breathtaking, in terms of some of the complexities that are reflected in our community. People that are coming, people who feel under threat. But I hope, A, that we're able to provide some context. We think about it, and we try and push some of our priorities. And I hope that there's a sense of accountability to identify the costs of failure, and see if we can't segregate and redirect.

If we can save money for Kaiser and OHSU and the police department and the school district, to be able to invest in that front line activity, for housing and treatment, I think that's part of the solution, because I'll go to my grave thinking that we're wasting money on failure that could largely help, if we were able to direct it properly, to help prevent death.

But, thank you for caring, thank you for braving the traffic and the heat. We appreciate your observations. If you want to share with us thoughts, you know, I know, Doctor, you will, I've got two of your letters on my desk. We welcome further thoughts and observations you would share with us. Thank you very much.

DOUG MCVAY: That Earl Blumenauer, wrapping up a public forum on ending the war on drugs, which he organized and held in Portland, Oregon, on August First. And that's all the time we have this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I’m your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about drug policy reform and the drug war. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.