Portland police change procedures for searching vehicles
Portland police will no longer be directed to pull motorists over for minor infractions such as expired vehicle tags — and if they do, the officers must be recorded explaining that the motorists do not have to consent to have their vehicles searched.
Those two changes to Portland Police Bureau directives were announced Tuesday, June 22, by Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell during a noon remote press conference.
The changes are intended to focus traffic enforcement on infractions that threaten public safety, such as speeding and reckless driving. The are also intended to help prevent officers from pulling Black motorists over disproportionately more than whites.
"The goal is to make our city both safer and more equitable, helping reduce the number of Black, Indigenous, and people of color who are disproportionately impacted by consent searches and traffic stops," said Wheeler.
Wheeler and Lovell said resignations and retirements within the bureau has led to fewer officers on patrol. Staffing levels are so low that traffic enforcement must be prioritized, Wheeler said. The bureau, which is authorized for 1,001 sworn members, currently only has a total of 809 — 125 fewer than a year ago at this time.
Wheeler said the staffing shortage is why he does not support further cuts to the bureau budget.
The changes also come in response to the racial justice movement, the bureau must reduce the frequency of minor confrontations with Black Portlanders that can lead to unnecessary arrests and violence.
According to Wheeler, although Blacks make up only 6% of Portland's population, they account for 18% of traffic traffic stops. Officers can still use probable cause to stop vehicles, he said.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty applauded the moves made by Wheeler and Lovell saying they will "advance the cause of racial justice in policing."
"I strongly support today's announcement that PPB will no longer pursue minor traffic violations and will limit car searches, while informing drivers of their constitutional rights during these encounters. This allows the police to focus on traffic violations that pose an immediate safety threat and other higher priority crime mitigation efforts, such as solving crimes related to the increase in gun violence," Hardesty said in a statement following the press conference.
Wheeler said the bureau is taking the steps after House Bill 2002, which would have called for similar changes to traffic enforcement statewide, died at the 2021 Oregon Legislature. The legislative Black, Indigenous and People of Color Caucus expressed disappointed that it failed, calling it a "a profoundly disappointing setback for Oregonians who value and have called for racial justice and changes in our approach to community safety."
Wheeler said he understands the stress placed on the members of the bureau's Rapid Response Team over the past 14 months that contributed to their mass resignation from the unit on Wednesday, June 16. That was the day after one of its members was indicted by a Multnomah County grand jury for assault for allegedly striking a photographer with his baton during a declared riot last year. Wheeler called the indictment "the last straw" for team members facing withering scrutiny doing difficult work during transformational times.
"I am worried about retention in the bureau," Wheeler said. "These are men and women who do a very tough job under what I think what are the most difficult circumstances police officers have ever been asked to operate in. They've been out there night after night after night for 14 months. What I'm hearing from them is that they're tired, they're exhausted, they're stressed. They don't feel they have the level of support either from elected officials or from the community to do their jobs effectively."
Wheeler also said it was important the community be mindful of their wellness and that efforts to improve are needed on both sides.
"They deserve to be heard," Wheeler said. "On the other hand, the public deserves to know that their safety is being protected. That's why I've directed the chief to deploy the mobile field force, it's not the same thing but it's similar. We still have a lot of people in the bureau who are adequately trained."
KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune and contributed to this story.
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