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Portland to shift $4.8M from police budget to FD-supported response team

The city is poised to direct the funds toward the Portland Street Response program that would dispatch paramedics and behavioral health experts on some calls


By Laura French

PORTLAND — The city of Portland is expected to re-allocate $4.8 million from its police department budget to a new response program supported by Portland Fire and Rescue.

The shift, urged by Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, would put the funds toward Portland Street Response, a program that would send paramedics and behavioral health specialists on some 911 calls instead of police officers, according to KGW 8.

The city had previously approved $500,000 to launch the program, which was scheduled to begin in spring 2020 with one two-person team in one neighborhood but was delayed due the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting hiring freeze.

Currently, Portland Fire and Rescue Paramedic Tremaine Clayton is the only staff member assigned to the program. Clayton said that the department plans to hire a mental health worker to be his partner on the first team, who will receive additional training before the program takes off.

Portland Street Response was first developed in collaboration with Street Roots, an organization that advocates for Portland residents experiencing homelessness and poverty. According to Street Roots, the goal of the plan is to “reduce police responses to calls for service involving people experiencing homelessness and behavioral health crises in public spaces.”

An outline of the plan states that the team would be dispatched through the city’s Bureau of Emergency Communications and that Portland Fire and Rescue “has the infrastructure in place to take on the role of partner agency to Portland Street Response, with teams serving as an expansion of the bureau’s CHAT (Community Health Assement Team) program.”

The program is modeled after the CAHOOTS program in Eugene, Oregon. Street Roots estimates the program would cost about $4.8 million per year to operate, in addition to the $500,000 start-up cost.

Portland Fire and Rescue stated in its fiscal year 2020-21 budget request that “the bureau fully supports Portland Street Response, Medical Priority Dispatch, a nurse triage system, and other long-term strategies for managing call volume,” but did not request additional funds for the program due to start-up costs being included in the fiscal year 2019-20 budget.

The city and fire department also released a video last year endorsing the program: