SPRINGFIELD – Measure 110 continues to be a controversial piece of legislature, and the dialogue about it is seemingly never-ending.
The Springfield chamber held its second round table discussion regarding Measure 110 at the end of last month after attendees toured the Springfield Police Department (SPD)’s facilities, including the jail.
The measure, also known as the Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act, was enacted in February 2021 to decriminalize non-commercial drug possession. It aims to significantly increase funding for substance use disorder treatment and harm reduction services through Behavioral Health Resource Networks.
SPD chief Andrew Shearer made it clear that Measure 110 is not the “problem” up for discussion, elucidating that it was the catalyst to certain issues. He then passed it onto sergeant Justin Myers to delineate what has changed in how SPD operates since the passing of Measure 110.
“The biggest, most striking change for us is (the decrease in) our ability to make a physical custody arrest over the amounts of drugs,” Myers said. “If they’re in a public place, then it’s just a possession, which is a hard sell for us to actually take action.”
Shearer said the Measure “removed any tools in our toolbox to get the chronic drug user into treatment.”
Another deterrent for an SPD officer to do something when they see instances of drug possession is: A violation ticket does not warrant a physical altercation with the possessor. Deputy chief Jami Resch said, if the only issue is concerning personal use amount, the person in possession of the drugs does not have to tell an officer their name, which makes giving out citations tricky.
“If you’re not going to tell me who you are, and I want to issue this violation ticket, officers are not going to want to use force to try to find a driver’s license,” she said. “A lot of people understand that, and they’re not going to tell us who they are – so officers walk away.”
Myers said, while he does not believe there is more drug usage since the passing of Measure 110, he has noticed an increase of visible usage since the Measure’s passing.
“There’s not this trying to hide the usage of it because there’s no fear of any kind of criminal consequences,” he said. “There’s still some restrictions, but I think it’s much more prevalent seeing it on a day-to-day basis.”
Myers brought up his experience working on narcotics assignments.
“Having a break in that behavior can sometimes trigger or start the recovery process to some degree,” Myers said. “Some people who were addicted to whatever the drug was, their last arrest was what finally triggered their desire to break the cycle.”
However, Shearer shared a contrasting anecdote.
“There’s been almost nobody – from my understanding and what the data shows – who has voluntarily, successfully sought this treatment, even though it’s an option,” he said. “That tells me anecdotally: The idea that the 100% entirely voluntary system to get the treatment isn’t working.”
SPD’s arrests for possession, delivering, and/or manufacturing controlled substances have been steadily decreasing since its unsurpassed spike in 2017 with 564 arrests. The most notable shifts in total arrests are from 2020’s 225 arrests to 2021’s 67 arrests followed by 2022’s 14 arrests.
It seems that, although substance-related arrests were already on the decline, 2021 was a significant turning point for the Springfield community with an about 70% decrease in arrests.
Yet there are extraneous variables to consider when analyzing these arrest trends. There are too many potential factors which could have affected the Springfield community, and therefore the data, over the years, so it’s not possible to say that the declines are due to Measure 110’s enactment, the post-pandemic recovery period, climate changes which caused wildfires, etc.
The arrest data provided for 2023 – which includes projections for the last two months – charts an uptick in arrests again, though, with an estimated 21 projected arrests so far.
Chris Wig, executive director of Emergence Addictions and Behavioral Therapies (Emergence), said, if a drug user doesn’t need to be arrested to seek out recovery, nobody wants them to endure the traumatic experience of being arrested. He juxtaposed that comment, though, saying, “People who are smoking fentanyl and shouting at kids in the middle of the street need to get arrested. We need to keep this community safe.”
Because of his role at Emergence, Wig said he knows people who are not benefitting from Measure 110.
“It is not controversial to say there are people who are able to get help now because of 110 who were not able to get it before because of the investment of money and some of the structures. That is absolutely true,” Wig said. “What is also absolutely true – yet is much more controversial, especially among Measure 110 advocates – is there are people who got help before who are not getting help right now. Those are my people at Emegence.”
Wig said he just wants “everybody who is using drugs to be able to get into treatment because everybody deserves a second chance, third chance, fourth chance.”
Representative John Lively said there were two major notions to consider regarding Measure 110:
It could take a decade to fully perfect Measure 110, which leads to questioning: What are the near-term priorities?
There is not enough money to continue certain programs in the next budget cycle, so people must ask: How should the existing money be distributed?
“We want to help people get into those treatment centers, but I have no answers,” Lively said.
Shearer recalled the two ways to address Measure 110: a legislative “fix,” which the governor can implement, or a ballot measure “fix.” Wig brought up the potential ballot measures regarding ways to diminish the ramifications of Measure 110. These Measures could: prohibit the use of hard drugs in certain spaces, make certain drugs illegal again, require addiction treatment instead of allowing it to be voluntary, and increase the penalties against drug dealing.
“It seems the recovery community does not agree on whether Measure 110, in its current form, is good or more harmful than good. It’s contested within the recovery community that the folks behind the ballot measure, their polling says they’re going to win,” Wig said. “If that goes to the ballot today – Emergence does gambling treatment, so I don’t bet – they have a good idea that polls really, really well.”
According to him, left-leaning voters may be regretting their outspoken support for Measure 110, as the effects are now apparent.
“We have democratic voters in South Eugene who – when we were knocking on doors for Paul Holvey to defeat the recall – bring up unprompted: ‘And we’ve gotta make drugs a crime again because this is out of control,’” Wig said.
While Wig discussed community input and the pros and cons of the ballot measures, Shearer listed eight ways Measure 110 could evolve to better support SPD and allow officers to assist with Oregon’s brunt of the national drug crisis.
Shearer’s first two suggestions – “to reclassify possession of a controlled substance violation back to a misdemeanor so officers could actually arrest someone and book them in jail” and “to modify the definition of delivery of a controlled substance, which is a crime, to include something more like ‘transfer’ or ‘possession with the intent to transfer’” – were mentioned to ensure there was more accountability enforced, which was a common trend across all suggestions.
Another proposal was to expand upon an officer’s ability to put people under a police office hold (POH) if they are a danger to themselves or others to utilize this for people who are “extremely intoxicated and probably going to kill themselves with an overdose.” A POH’s length of stay is determined by medical professionals, but cannot exceed 72 hours.
Three of his suggestions were about funding. The first was for county probation departments to supervise misdemeanor theft and property crimes where there is a nexus to drug use.
“One of the numbers I saw somewhere is like 50-60% of the property crimes are tied back to addiction issues – so if you have people with misdemeanor thefts, but you have a nexus to the drugs, maybe there’s an angle where parole and probation become more involved with those folks and hold them accountable and get them into the treatment they need,” Shearer said.
The second was to fund specialty courts, like drug courts. According to Shearer, drug courts are few and far between right now, but he said, “We can’t just arrest our way out of this.” The last in this trio of ideal funding solutions to mitigate the effects of Measure 110 was for there to be increased bed capacity in stabilization centers.
“Another idea floating around is having more beds in secure, residential facilities where people who are in for intensive treatment are going to go,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s enough beds that exist in the state right now to address that, and that’s a big part of (the challenge.)”
Shearer also suggested creating a new misdemeanor for using a controlled substance in public.
“You can’t walk down the street and drink a beer, and you can’t walk down the street and smoke marijuana, but the way it is right now, you can essentially possess heroin and use it – and there’s nothing I can really do about that,” he said. “It’s time to set that standard like the other standards we’ve set. That might tamp down some of the daily, blatant drug use on the sidewalk.”
On a similar note, he suggested prohibiting the use of controlled substances in enclosed public spaces that endangers others, like buses or public bathrooms. Although Shearer did not originally mean for it to combat against using drugs in front of children, he did say, “That would be a great one. It’s not included in the public space thing necessarily, but if you’re putting other people in danger, I would say absolutely. I would fully support that.”
He also outlined how Senate Bill 48 – which significantly reformed Oregon’s pretrial detention system through reducing the importance of bail, for example – has affected SPD and shared an ideal solution.
“Senate bill 48 is one that impacted the ability to hold people in jail for various charges,” Shearer said. “Maybe there’s some modifications to it that would allow jails and judges the flexibility to potentially hold people who are arrested for distribution of drugs longer to increase the level of accountability for them.”
At each of those suggestions’ cores, Shearer explained the goal was to give police officers and the justice system more responsibility and ability to assist in managing Measure 110’s outcomes.
“This all ties back to: It’s going to be a major investment,” Shearer said. “This is an epidemic I think impacts every level of government in this country. I don’t want people to get so focused on Measure 110 like this is the fix for all our problems. There’s multiple layers to this – and that’s just my two cents.”