Police officer Brian Hunzeker fired for leaking investigation details
Portland Police Bureau officer Brian Hunzeker was fired earlier this week due to violations of bureau directives against the dissemination of information and retaliation. Hunzeker leaked reports in March 2021 that City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was a suspect in a hit-and-run crash.
While Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell recommended Hunzeker be suspended without pay, rather than termination, Police Commissioner Ted Wheeler (who also acts as Portland’s mayor), opted for firing. The Portland Police Association released a statement after Hunzeker’s firing, framing the firing as an inappropriate response, given that Hunzeker has no history of facing disciplinary measures. Hunzeker was president of PPA from October 2020 until he resigned the position after investigations into the leak began in March 2021. Hunzeker has been on administrative leave since May 2021 (although he oddly earned overtime pay during that period). PPA has suggested that the police union may pursue arbitration on Hunzeker’s behalf. Each time PPA has gone to arbitration on behalf of officers fired for misconduct in the past decade, the officer in question has been reinstated.
Context around Hunzeker’s firing is multilayered, especially in light of how rarely Portland police officers face disciplinary measures.
- Hardesty is in the middle of a contested reelection race against candidates who support increasing policing in Portland. Investigations into PPB’s retaliation against Hardesty for efforts to reduce their budget and hold them accountable have been inconvenient for pro-police candidates.
- Hardesty is also suing Hunzeker and PPA, as well as the City of Portland, over the leaks. By firing Hunzeker, the city may be able to minimize its perceived responsibility for his actions.
- Two other officers leaked the same news that Hunzeker released — Ken Le and Kerri Ottoman. No potential disciplinary actions against either officer have been disclosed. Furthermore, PPB has a culture that enables and even supports this sort of retaliatory behavior. Rather than addressing deeper problems, the City of Portland just signed a new $56 million contract with PPA.
- Wheeler has a reputation for siding with the Portland Police Bureau, from covering up racist training materials to allowing PPB to use chemical weapons and other munitions against Portland residents. Hunzeker’s firing may provide Wheeler with an opportunity to frame himself as an advocate for police accountability.
Tess Riski deserves major recognition for staying on this story with regular updates for just short of a year.
Key changes in governmental houselessness supportive services
Marc Jolin, the founding director of the Joint Office of Homeless Services, announced Tuesday that he’ll be resigning that position effective March 28. Shannon Singleton will take on the role of interim director at that time. Singleton is currently running for Multnomah County Chair, but has shared plans to end her campaign in order to focus on JOHS’ work. Singleton will also be leaving her role as Governor Kate Brown’s Director of Equity and Racial Justice. JOHS is operated jointly by the City of Portland and Multnomah County. It oversees roughly 2,000 shelter beds, as well as operates emergency shelters in response to extreme weather. JOHS will conduct a national search for a permanent director.
Meanwhile, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Wednesday that he is using his executive powers to create a new “Street Services Coordination Center” to act as a hub for the City of Portland’s efforts to reduce the number of Portland residents without stable access to housing. The program will not create any new policies or services and will not operate through the Portland Housing Bureau, which is overseen by Commissioner Dan Ryan. Instead, it concentrates all programs under the leadership of Community Safety Director Mike Myers.
Wheeler plans to issue more executive orders regarding houselessness in coming months, on top of his recent order to sweep homeless encampments near roads. While Wheeler could use his executive powers as mayor to establish rent controls, purchase housing to rent at affordable rents, and otherwise provide housing to people who are unsheltered, Wheeler and his staff have so far been more interested in criminalizing houselessness.
Ryan also announced four more potential locations for safe rest villages last week. While Ryan has been working on the safe rest village program for over a year, none of the seven proposed locations are anywhere near opening. Furthermore, the proposals face critiques from all sides — advocates are concerned that building the villages would enable police to further criminalize being unsheltered, some housed residents object to placing safe rest villages in their neighborhoods, and few people actually experiencing homelessness have been consulted at any stage of the process. It’s also worth noting that the seven sites chosen so far would likely house a maximum of 420 people. In 2019 (the last year we have data on at this time), 2,000 Portland residents were unsheltered and that number has only increased in the past two years.
Traffic interventions prove effective at reducing gun violence
Portland, like other U.S. cities, is experiencing a rise in gun violence. The most effective strategies at reducing gun violence are reducing initial gun purchases, creating social support programs, and investing in community resources. But while we’re working to convince the City of Portland and other governmental bodies to direct funds to such programs, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has added another tool for dealing with gun violence more immediately: traffic calming barrels.
Last October, Hardesty instructed the Portland Bureau of Transportation to add traffic calming infrastructure, including barrels and signage, to streets in the neighborhood. Other changes to the neighborhood also included increased park ranger patrols and repaired lighting in Mt. Scott Park, with the support of Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who heads Portland Parks and Recreation. The changes were based on requests from residents of the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood in Southeast Portland. On Tuesday, Hardesty announced that the three-month pilot project resulted in a 64% decrease in verified shootings in the area when compared to the three months preceding the project. Shooting numbers throughout the rest of the city remained consistent during the same time. PBOT and Portland Parks and Recreation have already requested funding to expand the program.
Of course, a three-month pilot project is just a start. But seeing a holistic approach based on community requests is promising — and much cheaper than throwing another $2 million at the Portland Police Bureau to recreate its failed gun violence reduction program. Residents in other neighborhoods throughout Portland can hopefully follow Mt. Scott-Arleta’s lead in requesting specific interventions and infrastructure to address gun violence.