Portland's Democrat-Run Task Force Recommends Crackdown on Drug Use, More Police

Homeless camp tents in northeast Portland (Wikimedia Commons)
December 12, 2023

A task force meant to revitalize downtown Portland issued a list of recommendations Monday that included cracking down on drug use and an increased law enforcement presence.

The Portland Central City Task Force, co-chaired by Oregon governor Tina Kotek (D.), released its recommendations to improve the situation in the city. In addition to criminalization of public drug use and more police, the task force also recommended an expansion of services for homeless people and that state, county, and city officials declare a "fentanyl emergency." It also suggested taking down "2020-era fences and plywood" from government buildings and businesses, as well as an exploration of tax relief and a moratorium on new taxes.

"Portland—like its neighboring West Coast cities—has been hit by epidemics of fentanyl and rising crime, which have presented challenges across elected leaders, business leaders, and advocates," the task force's website reads. "Since 2020, the national media has repeatedly pointed to Portland to illustrate the range and severity of challenges facing cities in the COVID era."

Although several individuals and groups hailed the recommendations, as Oregon Public Broadcasting reported, some progressive groups were not as enthusiastic.

"We all agree that state leaders must take swift action to address the drug addiction and homelessness crises across Oregon," the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon wrote in a statement. "However, criminalization is a false promise that will not solve these pressing societal issues; instead, criminalization will have unintended consequences, especially on Black and brown communities. The only known real solutions for reducing rates of addiction and eliminating public drug use are increasing access to treatment, housing, and supportive resources."

Health Justice Recovery Alliance, which advocated for Measure 110, a 2020 ballot initiative that decriminalized drugs in the state, advocated a similar sentiment.

"Criminalizing public use and increasing law enforcement interactions with people in crisis fail to address the real issue, and will only cause harm—particularly to communities of color and people living on the streets," the group said in a statement. It added, however, that it agreed with other of the task force's recommendations, such as the declaration of a fentanyl emergency.

The task force's recommendations come after the city lost 3 percent of its population between 2020 and 2022, with fleeing residents citing crime and homelessness to the Wall Street Journal. Fentanyl-related deaths in Oregon have increased 210 percent since 2020, Axios reported in May.

Published under: Crime , Fentanyl , Oregon