Maybe it wasn’t what Democrats in the legislature had in mind, but the effect of a new law they passed as Senate Bill 48 is that there’s not much law enforcement can do about minor crimes such as shoplifting or trespassing.
That’s the gist of what municipal court Judge Forrest Reid, Albany Police Chief Marcia Harnden and Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan have told the city council.
The discussion took place during Monday’s council work session, and you can watch and listen to the whole thing on YouTube here.
Introduced at the request of the governor, SB 48 passed the state Senate on June 23, 2021, with 22 yes votes including that of Sen. Sara Gelser Blouin, D-Corvallis/Albany. Seven Republicans voted no.
It passed the House two days later, 39-16. Among the “no” votes was that of Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany.
The measure was billed as a reform of the system of requiring bail or “security” before releasing someone accused of a crime. Specifically, the bill directed Oregon’s chief justice and the presiding judges in each court district to issue standing pretrial release orders.
The result, Reid said, is that police can’t do anything about misdemeanors other than to cite and release the person accused.
“We can’t hold them,” the judge said, even if it’s the fifth time that someone is arrested for the same thing.
If a suspect fails to appear in court, there will be an arrest warrant. And when the warrant is served , the person is released again, only to not appear again. Apparently this process can repeat itself forever.
Councilwoman Matilda Novak wondered why, if the law is that bad, “we have to abide by it.”
Because it’s the law, the judge explained, and people in law enforcement take an oath to uphold the law.
Nothing came of the council discussion, except a general expression of frustration with what the legislature had done. Mayor Alex Johnson and others said they would talk to legislators.
The police chief also reminded the council about the effects of Ballot Measure 110, passed by a majority of Oregon voters in 2020, which legalized user amounts of drugs such as heroin.
One of the effects is that if people call the police about someone smoking crack in front of their house, there’s not much the police can do.
Another is that the number of accidental overdoses from drugs such as fentanyl is way up. The chief said the police, besides trying to catch the dealers, are trying to warn especially young people about the danger, and the mayor said he’d help.
As if that’s not enough to worry about, the council voted to consider, on Wednesday night, final passage of a city ordinance putting a two-year ban on the local manufacture or use in therapy of psilocybin mushrooms, as allowed by another voter-passed initiative.
Nobody at Monday’s meeting seemed to be concerned about how such a temporary ban might be enforced. (hh)