Portland Police Bravely Defend Public From Homeless Woman Looking To Charge Her Cell Phone

from the real-american-heroes dept

Police: they have a job that demands respect, even if those doing the job occassionally do not. We talk a great deal here at Techdirt about some of the frightening uses of military grade equipment by local law enforcement agencies, about what sometimes seems like a neverending list of civil rights abuses, and so on. Still, as I said, I respect the job. It’s my respect for that job that leads me to think that the Portland cops who arrested a homeless woman for charging her phone on a public outlet need a greater understanding of what it is exactly that police in this stupid country are supposed to do.

Now, if you’re thinking to yourself, “There’s no way police in Portland arrested a person just for plugging her cell phone charger into a public outlet,” well, you’re correct; they arrested two people for that in one trip.

In this case, the theft was first reported by Portland Patrol Inc., and two Portland police officers followed up to issue the woman and her co-defendant, a homeless man who was also charging his cellphone at the planter box outlet, citations to appear in court for third-degree theft of services — a Class C misdemeanor. According to the Electrical Research Institute, it costs about 25 cents a year to charge the average mobile phone. If the phone in this scenario had gone from zero charge to full charge, the cost would have amounted to mere fractions of a penny.

“Jackie,” (who did not want her real name used), says she was shocked when four uniformed officers all agreed her actions warranted not only their response, but also charges and a court summons.

Let’s play a quick game. Pick out which part of the pull quote above is the most ridiculous aspect of this story. Got it? You picked the part where the homeless woman and a homeless man were charged with theft for plugging in their phones to a public outlet, didn’t you? Well, you’re wrong. That is ridiculous, of course, but any single police officer might be some asshole idiot capable of being this dumb. No, the most ridiculous part of the above pull quote is that it took four goddamned officers to respond to this request, and they still reached the conclusion that a citation was warranted. If these aren’t verified to be the four dimmest officers on Portland’s force, then the entire city has much larger problems.

Oh, and should you be waiting to jump into the comments with some snarky question about why a homeless woman should have a cell phone in the first place, please keep in mind that phones cost less than houses. Also, shut up. Because strictly from the point of view of safety, not to mention the hopes of having any kind of future employment or way to communicate with social services, a cell phone at this point is so necessary for the homeless, not to mention everyone else, that the government should probably be furnishing everyone with some kind of holographic communciations and record-keeping tool that appears on your forearm when needed.

Pictured: a homeless person in President Geigner’s America

Now, the Jackie in this story has never before been convicted of a crime, but she missed her court date after losing her citation because, well, where the shit is she going to put it? It’s not like she’s got a damned file cabinet stocked up in the house she doesn’t own. Knowing she missed the court date, Jackie turned herself in to the police and ended up being booked into jail. Keep in mind, if you can, that this is all over “stealing” electricity at levels of “fractions of a penny.” Jackie is on several waiting lists for assisted housing and might actually want to work someplace in the future, but, if convicted, she’ll always have to be checking that “been convicted of a crime” box now on applications, thanks to a dumb law and four brave boys in blue.

And don’t think that this is a completely isolated incident, either.

Jackie’s was not an isolated incident. Public defender Jane Fox says she’s seen similar cases.

“It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s just insane,” says Fox. “The (case) that I had was somebody charging their phone by the Greyhound bus station. Don’t you have a reasonable expectation that an outlet near the bus station would be OK?”

Only if you thought there was such a thing as common sense, which is clearly in short enough supply so as to no longer be common. As I said, I respect the job of the police, but I sure don’t respect the job that these four defenders of the public good managed to do. And just to wrap a nice bow on how stupid this all is, how much do you think the public is paying in tax money to prosecute Jackie’s fractions-of-a-penny theft? It seems likely that the paper the citation was written up on cost the taxpayers more than what she did, not to mention getting everyone in the court system involved. And, yet, Jackie’s the one stealing from taxpayers? Please…

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Comments on “Portland Police Bravely Defend Public From Homeless Woman Looking To Charge Her Cell Phone”

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Ed Allen (profile) says:

Re: Oliver Twisted

This is why “following the law” without adding a little judgement was long ago found to be inadequate.

It is as stupid as a computer. Never a consideration of the costs nor what the benefit of applying
a given law is this instance would be.

So we got judges to reign over zealous prosecutors and have “jury nullification” to fall back on when
both prosecutors and judges insist on a law being used against a particular defendant when common sense says it
should not be.

Still we get cases like this occasionally.

How noble the law, in its majestic equality, that both the rich and poor
are equally prohibited from peeing in the streets, sleeping under bridges,and stealing bread!
Anatole France [The Red Lily] (1894)

Ninja (profile) says:

Does anyone remember that GTA 2 (was it?) mission where you had to grab a bus, collect some homeless on the streets and take to the sausage factory for… “Processing”?


The way society treats individuals it doesn’t like or don’t fit in their perfect bubble is despicable and this is yet another example. It’s just that there isn’t another Australia to send them too as all continents are occupied.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In australia where i live you see the ocasional public accessible outlet sometimes you see travelers using the points for charging phone, etc. The police walk by, they dont interfer

The convicts sent to Australia were petty criminals (steel a half loaf of bread get 14 years transportation), AND politiIcals, (try to form a union etc.),

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

It went this-a-way

Homeless Egregious Scofflaw: I was just charging my phone!

Anal Retentive LEO: That is an infraction of the most vulgar kind.

Homeless Egregious Scofflaw: Where the hell SHOULD I charge it?

Anal Retentive LEO: At home.

Homeless Egregious Scofflaw: I’m homeless!

Anal Retentive LEO: And your point is?

LauraTee (profile) says:

I had to send this to a friend to vindicate myself. Several years ago, we were driving somewhere, couldn’t find the address, and my phone was out of battery. He kept telling me to pull over so he could find an outlet to plug it in. I refused over and over, saying “You’re crazy if you think the cops won’t have a problem with a big black guy stealing that place’s electricity.” He thought I was out of my mind. I wish he was right, but apparently I was.

Anonymous Coward says:

This wasn't about electricity

the theft was first reported by Portland Patrol Inc.

The local businesses wanted the homeless people to quit loitering near their shops. The stealing charge is just an excuse to not have to say, “We think you’re ugly and might scare away our clientele. Please go away.”

Here’s an article about the Portland Patrol Inc – http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/trust-me-im-a-rent-a-cop/Content?oid=315932

It looks like their sole purpose is to shoo homeless people.

JBDragon says:

Re: Re: This wasn't about electricity

Want don’t want to work a normal job!!! Besides it’s very expensive to hire a person these days!!! Let alone hire someone that you don’t even need. Jobs aren’t created to just give people a job and money, there was to be a real need. This is a communist country. Then you need to get rid of some people you can just kill off thousands or millions and there’s nothing anyone can really do about that!!!!

That One Guy (profile) says:

That was a close one

Can you imagine the horror that could have occurred had those homeless people been allowed to have a proper way for people to reach them? They might have been able to get a job, maybe stop being homeless! That sort of upward mobility must be stopped at all costs. They’re homeless, and that’s where they’re going to stay, and the sooner they accept this the better off everyone will be.


Chris Brand says:

A technicality

This article says “… for charging her phone on a public outlet …”, but the original news report has an Editor’s note saying “The utility Jackie and her co-defendant plugged into, while located along a public sidewalk, was a privately-owned outlet.”

Of course it’s arguable that that’s worse, because doesn’t that then introduce an additional “do you want to press charges ?” step ? i.e. somebody else who could have said “this doesn’t make any sense whatsoever”.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is far more common that you might think

Having been homeless, I’ve seen a lot of this. Police and security guards routinely bully the homeless because they can: who’s going to defend them? They’re perfect targets for sadistic behavior, and believe me, there’s no shortage of that.

I’ve seen cops/guards steal coats (“that’s too nice for you, you must have shoplifted it”), kick food away (“you can’t eat here”), drag people out of bathrooms (“you can’t wash your face here”), refuse transport to the ER (“you didn’t get beat up, you just got drunk and fell”), steal money (“you can’t beg here, give me all your cash”), demand sex (“blow me and I won’t run you in”), and worse. Much worse.

Nobody sees. Nobody knows. Nobody cares.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: This is far more common that you might think

Its the new American Way, brought to you via the Ownership Society, ushered in during the Dubya Bush Administration.

One’s American-ness is measured by one’s possessed wealth.

No money = person who is not an American citizen.
No money = person with no American Civil rights.

Its the balance point for the other end of the spectrum.

Millionaire = American Citizen who can get out of jail free.
Billionaire = American Citizen with a license to kill.

Since most Americans believe that they will some day become a millionaire or billionaire, there is absolutely no desire to change this national measuring-stick among the common people, and the mega-rich love the process as it is, so it is absolutely guaranteed to get worse over time, with absolutely no possibility of being changed, short of a national dissolution.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: This is far more common that you might think

Interesting that you would think I have a partisan agenda simply because I state a fact of history that does not include actions by both parties.

“…Democrat controlled city into a statement about Republicans.”

You make it sound like two gangs of thugs laying claim to their captured territories… probably closer to reality than you intended.

For the record, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, are two sides of the very same fascist coin, and the only real difference between them, is their political labels.

The Republican Party is composed of millionaires bent on becoming billionaires, while the Democratic Party is composed of millionaires bent on becoming billionaires.

See the difference?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 This is far more common that you might think

“For the record, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, are two sides of the very same fascist coin, and the only real difference between them, is their political labels.

The Republican Party is composed of millionaires bent on becoming billionaires, while the Democratic Party is composed of millionaires bent on becoming billionaires.”

Actually, both parties are controlled by billionaires, whose money is funneled through so many non-profit organizations that it becomes hard to quantify.

So exercising “democracy” means getting to choose between the party of billionaire Democrat George Soros or the party of billionaire Republican Sheldon Adelson (and if you don’t like either oligarch, then you’re obviously an anti-Semite neo-Nazi conspiracy theorist!), whose views on most things (for instance, foreign interventionism) are very similar if not identical.

Voters are of course allowed a few tiny, insignificant choices, like whether guns or abortions should be more regulated or less regulated, that are turned into major battle lines in every election, while all the truly important issues are never even addressed because neither party wants to change anything that might upset their moneymen.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 This is far more common that you might think

Nicely stated, and absolutely correct. 🙂

That’s the reason that the Millionaires (politicians from either party) want to become the Billionaires.

They want to stop taking orders from their Masters, and start giving orders, as Masters, in the Ownership Society, because the lion’s share of the profits go to the masters.


JP Jones (profile) says:

Um, I have a question…what are those outlets for? I’ve plugged electronic devices into external outlets on numerous occasions. It’s not like I’m unplugging another device, there usually isn’t a cover and/or lock, and certainly no sign. If you have a public building with exposed outlets with no “Not For Public Use” sign I find it ludicrous that you can complain about people using them.

This is simply another case where the homeless get charged with laws that don’t apply to other citizens, such as how long you can stand in one spot or what businesses you can enter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

External outlets are there for a reason. How are you supposed to use an electric leaf blower to clear the sidewalk in front of your business without one? You don’t need a sign or a lock for the same reason this is stupid. Locks and signs cost way more money than what they would possibly save. However, complaining to the police costs the business nothing.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I guess my point is that if you leave something unsecured on your public-access property with no sign or lock indicating it is not for public use then you would naturally assume other people could use it. That would be like having a water fountain outside your business and then arresting people for using it because it’s for “employees only” even though there’s no sign or other restriction on use.

Complaining to the police costs nothing for the business, but they shouldn’t even be able to complain about it. The police aren’t free and hopefully have more important things to do, like stop or deter actual crimes. My issue is that using a public outlet shouldn’t be a crime unless you’ve made it obvious that it’s not for public use, and if it isn’t a crime, the police should not be allowed to get involved.

This is a double standard and it needs to be exposed and forbidden. No regular citizen would be charged with a crime for using public outlets; in fact, using public outlets to charge phones and computers is incredibly common in coffee shops, book stores, and other small businesses. I’ve never seen anyone ask for permission or seen a sign allowing it, both indoors and outdoors.

The homeless have enough issues without adding ridiculous legal charges.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

However, complaining to the police costs the business nothing.

I’d love to think that the complainant would be required to show up in court as a witness.

True, in this case the state got a default judgment, but at least the threat of having to show up in court might motivate them to do better. In this case, I’d probably want to try to vacate the conviction on the ground that there is no actual crime charged.

Anonymous Coward says:

when the police are in charge of a country, not the people, you will get this. they are going to issue their stamp of authority in every way possible! how dare anyone think they have rights and the police wont go to any lengths to ensure their authority isn’t challenged! heaven only knows what dastardly theft these two would have worked they way up to, the next time they wanted to ‘steal’ something!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Most of the one’s I’ve seen ask if you’ve ever been convicted of any crime.”

Try going somewhere you need a visa. (Or entering the US if you’re not a citizen or legal resident). “Have you ever been arrested?”

That homeless person today might one day win the lottery or get a well paid job and feel like they might want to take a holiday abroad. Ooopsy. They will have trouble entering many countries if they’re not ‘famous’ or ‘very rich’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Massive collections of scofflaws are found ...

The people the airport police need to charge are the chair-hogs. We’ve all seen them, the kind that will take a seat, as well as the chair on each side of them, putting a coat in one chair and a pc or bag in the other, just because they don’t wan’t anyone to sit down next to them. Tying up a seat needlessly when there are people having to stand
needs to be an arrestable crime. I once pointed out a seat-hog to an airport cop, who did nothing. (maybe I have a low tolerance for assholery in general?)

Also in many newer public libraries, the tables and desks are all wired with electricity so people can plug in their computers or whatever else right there where they work, rather than hunting down some well-worn wall receptacle that was intended for the janitor’s vacuum cleaner or floor polisher.

Homeless commonly use public libraries, but mainly just to sleep in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Massive collections of scofflaws are found ...

currently working on a massive airport terminal remodeling. The original 70s era plug locations were 100% set up for janitors (tucked under the edge of a water fountain between bathroom entrances, located on the back side of a column near the gate)

We are drilling in from the lower floor baggage handling area to bring in tons of outlets in the middle of previously pointless floors to feed into power strip platforms and clusters of chairs with charging stations.. enjoy, traveling public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Massive collections of scofflaws are found ...

That’s good to see airport design entering the 21st century (and not just regarding ‘security theater’). Here’s another idea: relocate the trash cans so that they are not smack dab in the middle of crowded areas (or better yet, design them so that trash drops through the floor and outside the building into some explosion-resistant container). I’ve never understood why anyone with an eye for security would allow a trash can in a high-profile place in the middle of an area where people are tightly packed (such as in the zigzag line waiting to get through security scans). Or does it necessarily take some terrorist to plant a bomb in the trash and kill a hundred people before anyone in authority can make a move to eliminate such obvious terrorist magnets. And it’s not like no terrorist has ever planted a bomb in a public trash bin — it’s been a tried-and-true method used throughout the world for many decades.

Maybe it’s a sign of the times. Christian and Jewish terrorists would plant hidden bombs (or park U-Haul trucks) and then skedaddle, while Islamic terrorists aren’t afraid to blow themselves up along with their explosive-packed cargo.

Anonymous Coward says:

This had nothing to do with any actual crime of “stealing electricity” — which is something that scores of travellers do in airports every day and get away with it. No, the actual crime is “being homeless” but since vagrancy is no longer an acceptable charge, the cops had to come up with something else, and they found one. Whether it’s public urination, entering a private dumpster, trespassing on city property [as in sleeping under bridges or in culverts], or whatever else, it’s not hard to find some crime to charge these people with and take them off the street.

TMC says:


If you ever find yourself over at the courthouse, and you want to be bummed out even more, take a gander at the job postings board. If you want to be a flood plain engineer, you need a degree and three years experience. If you want to be an IT clerk, you need an undergraduate degree and a couple certifications. If you want to be in law enforcement, you need a high school diploma or a GED and a valid driver’s license.

And you wonder why four fucktards decided to use the system to beat on the homeless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Depressing

“If you want to be a flood plain engineer, you need a degree and three years experience. If you want to be an IT clerk, you need an undergraduate degree and a couple certifications. If you want to be in law enforcement, you need a high school diploma or a GED and a valid driver’s license.”

And the cop will probably be paid more than either of the other two, as well.

crade (profile) says:

“… she missed her court date after losing her citation because, well, where the shit is she going to put it? It’s not like she’s got a damned file cabinet stocked up in the house she doesn’t own.”

No, no she obviously missed the court date because she put it in her cell phone calendar and her cell phone died because they wouldn’t let her charge it so she didn’t get the reminder.

Anonymous Coward says:

Proud to be an Americ... nevermind...

I was going to write some insightful comment but fuck it, if people cared then this shit would have been stopped decades ago. We don’t care, it’s barely newsworthy these days. No change is coming and there will be no revolutions. Things are worse this year than they were last; with no end in sight. Go ahead, prove me wrong…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: She should demand a jury trial

“Those people are on juries, too.”

Whether a juror would be sympathetic to the outcasts of society depends on whether their knowledge of them comes from the liberal media or is from hands-on contact with these people. Many of them have severe mental and social deficiencies. You never know if saying “hello” as you walk by will make the guy shudder in fear or explode in an obscenity-filled screaming fit. I used to be sympathetic, but now I definitely believe that authorities should make every effort to remove these people from the streets, starting with the obviously deranged ones. Short of that, at least have authorities try to “manage the herd” by providing facilities and services. Rather than, for instance, keeping all the park bathrooms locked up (except during ball games) so they won’t sleep inside … which creates a second, far worse problem.

Off-topic note to park restroom architects: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stop designing washroom buildings with a wrap-around ‘privacy’ wall OUTSIDE the entrance door, ESPECIALLY when the entranceway is covered by a roof. It’s as if nobody on the building design team ever had the brains to realize that when the bathroom doors are locked, people are likely to empty their bowels in the nearest private place — which in this case is in the [dark] hallway right outside the locked door!!!!

radarmonkey (profile) says:

Correction needed

No, the most ridiculous part of the above pull quote is that it took four goddamned officers to respond to this request, and they still reached the conclusion that a citation was warranted.

(new emphasis mine)

Not that this makes one iota of difference in the monumental stupidity of the situation, but it was only TWO ‘officers’ responding to a ‘request’ made by two MALL COPS (Portland Patrol Inc.). Therefore, for all of the (well-deserved) ration of shit you are heaping on the city’s legal system, a big old helping of “Fuck You!” needs to be placed on the assholes who called the cops to begin with.

Hey, Portland Patrol Inc.! You are the first in a long string of assholes in this story! Even Paul Blart would be ashamed.

me says:

Their job does not demand respect

Respect is earned, and every time you hear about a Contempt of Cop case, it illustrates that. Many metro PD’s and even smaller Sherriff depts are essential legalized mob in extreme cases. You have the DOJ and FBI creating cases to solve. It’s no better than the media manufacturing news. You want respect, earn it, plain and simple.

Robert (profile) says:

I'm sorry for Portland and Jackie

But real sad part here is that most cops are just no good, they are in it for the paycheck and pension, which NY the way should be a 401k. You, none of these cops are doing it for the community. I’m sorry, you just can’t trust any of them, there are more bad than good, on these fake police departments. Drop there pay, take away pension because this only seems to bring a bad element to the department. And please stop calling them hero’s, a hero does things for the sake of saving people, they do it for the paycheck

GEMont (profile) says:

Stealing is only a crime if you NEED the thing you steal.

I can already hear the official rationale that will be forwarded if this case gets into the mainstream:

“If we let one person get away with stealing .005 cents worth of someone else’s electricity, then in no time at all, there will be thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of homeless and poor people charging their phones and Lord knows what else, at public and private power outlets. It is best to nip this kind of criminal behaviour in the bud.”

jfb123 (profile) says:

Truly disturbing, I’m going out on a fence here, but something tells me if these people didn’t look homeless they would not have faced this ridiculous assault against there constitutional rights and dignity, truly sad and for less than a penny of electricity.
I wonder what this fiasco cost the taxpayers of Portland, or worse if by four officers wasting time harassing homeless people, did any major crimes take place at the time any preventable loss of life because bullies with badges have no real police work to do?
I would be very interested to see the call logs for the area these officers were responsible for at the time of this incident.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I would be very interested to see the call logs for the area these officers were responsible for at the time of this incident.

We cannot release that information because to do so would allow master and petty criminals, terrorists, rapists, muggers and various miscreants world wide, to easily determine our very super-secret police investigation methods and thus harm the ability of law enforcement to respond effectively to crime and because children would die horrible deaths and kittens too.

Police State Police

John Fenderson (profile) says:

My PPI story

I was in downtown Portland when a panhandler made the rounds politely asking everyone for spare change. He then moved on. A minute later, a PPI person walked up to us all and asked what direction the panhandler went. Every single person pointed in the direction opposite to his travels. It was one of the best things that I’ve ever seen.

GEMont (profile) says:

Heads on Pikes along Main Street USA

In a way, it is ironic, that through the machinations of the surveillance state, in their attempt to root out the dissenters among us, they are indeed turning those of us who would likely have never even complained about the intrusion into their private lives by their own government, into the new rebel army.

Perhaps the only way that this awful situation can come to a head and be eliminated, is if the governments continue to escalate the processes they have secretly put into action for their own protection against us, until the whole world reaches its limit of frustration and rebels against the machine.

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