A Portland police commander was captured on video at a neighborhood meeting in January telling Southeast Portland residents, if they wanted to reduce crime, they should vote the Multnomah County district attorney out of office.
East Precinct Commander Erica Hurley wore her full uniform—including badge and gun—to a Jan. 14 meeting of an anti-crime neighborhood group in Lents. She attended the event during work hours on behalf of the Portland Police Bureau, says bureau spokesman Lt. Greg Pashley.
Hurley told Lents residents the police's ability to make arrests for drug possession was hamstrung by Oregon voters decriminalizing drugs last November.
She suggested that if residents wanted to see more arrests for drug-related offenses, they would need to unseat Mike Schmidt, the reform-minded district attorney elected last spring.
"So the drug activity that you see, I can do nothing about," Hurley said. "I can't arrest them. I can't send them to jail. I can't do anything. I can't control that. Who controls that is you, because, when the DA's office asks what you want done, you need to send emails to the district attorney and phone calls to the district attorney. When the vote comes up again—because, the reality is, he won the vote with over 70% of the people—you have to vote no, right? And you have to vote."
As the meeting went on, she again criticized Schmidt for being soft on crime.
"Part of it is the DA's office that is failing to prosecute some of these cases, like the riots," Hurley said. "When you come out publicly and say, 'I will not prosecute anybody who does property damage, who does minor crimes,' why wouldn't you come and do that in the city of Portland? If you go to Washington County, they're going to prosecute you. If you go to Clackamas County, you might not see outside of jail for a week."
Video of Hurley's remarks was posted to YouTube by the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association, the group she visited.
A police commander openly politicking against the county's top prosecutor is nearly unheard of. It also might violate Police Bureau policy.
Bureau Directive 313.20 prohibits officers from using their "official authority or influence"—for example, wearing their uniform or using their official title—while engaging in political activity, which it defines as activity "directed toward supporting or opposing federal, state, or local measures, candidates, recalls, political committees, or petitions."
J. Ashlee Albies, a Portland civil rights lawyer, reviewed a portion of the Lents meeting footage. She says city policies and state laws relating to political activity are in place so public employees don't create the impression that they are speaking on behalf of the city.
"A uniform is, you are literally cloaked in the authority of the state or of the city," says Albies. "Those statements are deeply concerning, and they sound very much like she is encouraging people to vote against the district attorney when he comes up for election."
Hurley, a 26-year veteran of the bureau who oversees one of the city's three police precincts, declined comment through a spokesman. The bureau says it has reviewed the video, but declined to say whether it had triggered an internal affairs complaint. "Members can express themselves at meetings commensurate with their rank, experience, assignment and scope of work," says spokesman Pashley, "and should adhere to bureau directives."
Mayor Ted Wheeler's office declined comment. Schmidt, for his part, offered an olive branch.
"District Attorney Mike Schmidt continues to prioritize building and maintaining relationships with members of law enforcement even when their opinions may differ," said his spokesman, Brent Weisberg, who reviewed portions of the video.
Hurley's remarks reflect widespread police frustration with cuts made to the bureau's budget during last summer's protests—leaving them overworked and understaffed—and what they view as a permissive civic attitude toward increasing crime.
Much of that ire is directed toward Schmidt, who won office pledging progressive reforms to the criminal justice system. In August, Schmidt said he would only prosecute protesters who were violent or deliberately damaged property. In December, he voiced support for Measure 110, the drug decriminalization measure.
It's not unusual for police officers to meet with neighborhood associations—who share similar frustrations.
But the Lents Neighborhood Livability Association isn't a typical neighborhood group. It's a splinter organization—not to be confused with the Lents Neighborhood Association, formed in 1999 and officially recognized by the city of Portland.
Instead, the livability association was formed in October 2017, corporate filings show. It's explicitly more pro-police and less sympathetic to homeless people than the official neighborhood association. Around Christmas in 2017, the group gained notoriety after circulating a poem that riffed on "The Twelve Days of Christmas," replacing lyrics like "12 drummers drumming" with "12 tweakers tweaking."
(Reached by phone, the association declined to comment for this story. "Willamette Week has already blackened our name as it is, so I really have no comment at all," said a woman who didn't identify herself and then hung up.)
The appearance of police brass before such a group would in itself be noteworthy. (But it's not uncommon: Cops as high-ranking as Deputy Chief Chris Davis and former Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner have visited the group's meetings.)
The conversation Hurley had with about two dozen attendees was even more remarkable, both as a window into the shared grievances of police and residents as well as the rift it shows between police and elected officials.
Several residents described to Hurley a sense of alarm about homeless campers.
"We are living in hell. They have absolutely taken us and we are prisoners in our homes," said a man named Todd. "I feel so sorry for you guys. But, for us, it's really—it's too much. It's intolerable. I'm scared."
Another man named Ruben described a homeless person carrying a knife he said was the size of a machete.
"Yeah. Most of them have weapons," Hurley responded.
Hurley spoke to the group for more than 70 minutes. She encouraged the neighbors to demand more money for Portland police, and warned if they didn't, the next thing the City Council might cut are the Neighborhood Response Teams, which typically police homeless encampments and other "crime, nuisance and livability issues," according to the bureau's website.
"But I'm going to tell you right now that if you all do not ask from the mayor's office for us to keep [NRT officers], it will be the first thing gone," Hurley said. "If they don't hear from you, I'm the only one fighting for it. And not that I don't matter, but I don't matter, right?… Downtown has to hear from you. It has to be a single voice. It has to be enough voices that they don't continue to take the money away from the Portland Police Bureau."
Hurley added she had faith in "new City Council members" to help with Lents neighbors' concerns. She said the Portland Bureau of Transportation, previously helmed by Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, had a new commissioner. (PBOT is relevant because one of the association's main concerns is homeless people living in vehicles.)
"On that note, [PBOT] is run by a new City Council member," Hurley said, adding she believed the new PBOT commissioner was Mingus Mapps. A few neighbors corrected her: The Transportation Bureau is now led by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, they said.
"I think it's Hardesty, which screws you to the wall because she's not going to do a thing about it," a neighbor offscreen said. Hurley appeared to chuckle at the comment.
"It's your voice," Hurley said. "If you are loud enough, she will have to listen or she won't get reelected."