Time Magazine looks at the disorderly conduct statute in an article today titled, The Gates case: When disorderly conduct is a Cop’s judgment call. The article touches on the history of the law and makes a case that more than any other law, disorderly conduct calls for officers to use their own discretion when making an arrest.
In Portland, the police bureau is now using disorderly conduct in replace of the sit-lie law. The City of Portland is currently mulling over what a recent verdict by a judge ruling the sit-lie unconstitutional means. In an interview on July 10, city commissioner Amanda Fritz told Street Roots her concerns about using disorderly conduct as a tool to police behavior, specifically with folks on the streets.
It (the sit-lie verdict) also highlights a concern that Commissioner Fish raised in terms of criminalizing homelessness. What the court ruling said was, you can’t do (sit-lie) this because state law says we have a disorderly conduct law that comes with a maximum of one year in prison.
We have concerns about the charge from advocates that sit-lie criminalizes homeless people, when it fact, it made it a citation rather than a misdemeanor.
I.B.: But isn’t forfeiting your right to counsel through a citation process a violation of a person’s civil rights?
A.F.: You’re right, there are a lot of different twists and turns with this issue. But in my six months at City Hall I’ve come to realize that we all care about the homeless and having a place to go, and that the sidewalk obstruction ordinance was truly a tool meant to get people services.
I.B.: Have the city attorney or others at City Hall inquired into why the sit-lie law was needed then, if something else was in place?
A.F.: Obviously, we wanted something that wasn’t criminalizing people and throwing people in jail for being homeless.
I.B.: So the police bureau and the business community have been advocating all this time to decriminalize homelessness?
A.F.: I don’t know what the motivation was because I wasn’t involved at that time. What we need to look at now is what options do we have and move forward.
In the meantime, the city has held two well-attended community forums on the law and the services attached it. It’s unclear what the next steps are and if the city plans on letting officers continue to make judgment calls on behavior on Portland’s downtown streets, specifically when an individual is sitting or lying on a sidewalk.
Posted by Israel Bayer