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Traffic Division roundup: Captain re-assigned; Bicycle Liaison Officer named – Updated

Posted by on August 23rd, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Officer Todd Wyatt, Portland Police Bureau-1

Captain Todd Wyatt is under
investigation following an incident
in Idaho.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Captain Todd Wyatt of the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Division has been temporarily reassigned. According to the PPB, Wyatt was recently involved in an “off-duty incident while driving that involved another driver.” The incident is being investigated by the Idaho State Police.

The Traffic Division is the primary contact for bicycling and traffic safety issues. Since taking over the division back in July 2010, Wyatt has been a fixture at bicycle and traffic-safety events. Wyatt and his Lieutenant Eric Schober have also been regular attendees of the Bicycle Advisory Committee meetings.

Transportaiton Safety Summit-12

Lt. Eric Schober is Acting Captain.

During this temporary reassignment Lt. Schober will be the Acting Captain of the Traffic Division. Depending

In other Traffic Division news, a selection has been made for the Bicycle Liaison position. Officer Ty Engstrom, a member of the Traffic Division-Motor Unit, will now serve in this part-time role. Expect to be hearing more about Officer Engstrom as he starts showing up to various bicycle policy meetings and as he gets familiar with Portland’s bicycle advocacy and information ecosystem.

UPDATE: According to news sources, Captain Wyatt brandished a gun at the other driver and the incident is being called a case of road rage.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • jeff August 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    This guy was Captain of the Traffic Division? Holy crap.


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    • aljee August 23, 2011 at 3:20 pm

      you don’t know what really happened. don’t be so quick to shout ‘guilty’ based on a fox news article. key word here is ‘accused’. what he was doing might have been totally appropriate. you just don’t know.

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      • Joe Rowe August 24, 2011 at 7:34 pm

        Nobody should be saying much of anything until there is time to report on the related facts. Give our cop the rights he deserves. Same thing goes for bike riders who are mowed down by cars. No need to say much of anything about the victim or his/her choice of underwear or headwear that day.

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      • Scott August 25, 2011 at 10:37 am

        If Fox news is willing to throw this Aryan looking captain under the bus for road rage and they won’t even release pictures of cops that shot and tased a black man while he was seat belted in his car, I think the evidence is looking pretty good.

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        • middle of the road guy August 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm

          Aryan looking?

          Looks Scottish to me.

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    • Paul Johnson August 24, 2011 at 12:28 am

      This comment’s a good example of why we need the “thumbs down” button back…

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  • Marcus Griffith August 23, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Let’s withhold judgement until after the investigation is complete. The allegation is concerning, but at this point the allegation has not be fully investigated.

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  • Brice August 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    I’m sure my opinion really has no bearing on the part time liasion position, but the few interactions I have had with Officer Engstrom have always been positive. He’s an asset to the PPB, the City of Portland and the bike community as a whole.

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  • captainkarma August 23, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    Yeah, I wouldn’t take much of what Fox “news” says without a very large grain of salt.

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    • Steve August 24, 2011 at 8:13 am

      This is not the same Fox News everyone hates (and deservedly so). Fox affiliates are completely different than Rupert Murdoch’s company, and equivalent to any other local news station (CBS, NBC etc)

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      • Barney August 24, 2011 at 12:35 pm

        Not everyone hates Fox News. Don’t be a hater!

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        • Paul Johnson August 24, 2011 at 2:51 pm

          Not everyone feels the need to be willfully ignorant, either.

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        • captainkarma August 24, 2011 at 11:22 pm

          no further comment neccessary

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  • Alain August 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    You gotta wonder if the comment by the Multco Judge is true…. calling Wyatt arrogant and disrespectful?

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  • dmc August 23, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    I always heard about people brandishing weapons in their road cages. What do they smile and tap the gun against the glass? “looky looky”

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    • Chris I August 23, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      You have to give them some credit. I bet a cyclist would get a lot more respect from motorists if he or she were brandishing a pistol.

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  • Suburban August 23, 2011 at 6:50 pm
  • Oliver August 24, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Also, we don’t know what the other driver was doing (if anything) to provoke Mr Wyatt.

    Driving at 52 mph on the highway, speeding up to 70 in a passing lane and refusing to yield the left lane is the sport of choice for passive control freaks on highway 101.

    While this doesn’t necessarily warrant pulling a piece, we don’t know what other bs the other driver was up to. I’ve seen some pretty confrontational behavior in the years I’ve been driving.

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    • Kristen August 24, 2011 at 9:58 am

      And on I-5, I-205, I-405, Hwy 26, Hwy 217, Hwy 99…. Pretty much anywhere there are multiple lanes in a direction.

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      • Oliver August 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm

        Agreed, but I made a trip down to the south coast last week and was imediately reminded of how rampant it is down there. (and maybe in Idaho, which was where I was going with that)

        Far more so than on say highway 38. (which I travelled twice)

        On 101 it’s like they know you have no escape. 😉

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    • Mike August 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm

      It’s hard to find any behavior, short of the other driver putting your life at risk, that would warrent brandising a weapon as a response. The only reason anyone should pull a weapon is if they intend to use it.

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    • wsbob August 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm

      “…Driving at 52 mph on the highway, speeding up to 70 in a passing lane and refusing to yield the left lane is the sport of choice for passive control freaks on highway 101. …” Oliver

      Not to forget the behavior of many people regularly driving their vehicles in a way that actively prompts the type of counter measure you refer to as the “…sport of choice for passive control freaks…”.

      The counter measure is kind of a last resort in response to people that race up behind people traveling the speed limit, often to tailgate distance…don’t wait for the slower vehicle to move to the right…suddenly whip around to a space to the right, if and when one should present itself amongst traffic backed up waiting for exit the freeway… barely signaling, if at all.

      A lot of people on the road don’t seem to want to accept that freeways aren’t provided to them as an Indy 500 or Gran Prix race course. Freeways are just utilitarian pavement many people are commonly obliged to use to get from ‘A to B’. The main priority of everyone operating a vehicle on the road, is to keep the traffic safely flowing at as close to the speed limit as possible.

      As for Wyatt in Idaho, the details about what he did or didn’t do that are publicly available, at this point are so inconclusive, it’s anyone’s guess what really transpired. Might be really something big, or it might be nothing. it seems he’s got a bit of a rep for being a hothead, but one not totally lacking some smarts. If…he really did brandish a handgun instead of something harmless that the person accusing him of doing so, mistakenly identified as a handgun…if, he was that stupid (assuming the accuser didn’t flash a handgun first.), he might have been lucky the other guy really didn’t have a gun…a bigger one…and decide to blow him away.

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  • jeff August 24, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    “Thumbs down” because I posted a link to one of the many local news stories detailing the accusations against Wyatt? Similar to the link in the tweet Jonathan Maus posted when he heard the news? Yes, I will withhold judgement, but when is pulling out a gun and pointing it at another vehicle ever appropriate?

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    • Paul Johnson August 24, 2011 at 12:24 pm

      1) Fox News. That’s automatic FAIL.
      2) To answer your question, it really depends on the context of the situation. Remember, motor vehicles are weapons, too.

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    • aljee August 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm

      never said “pulling a gun” was appropriate – that’s still under investigation. I said “what he was doing might have been totally appropriate”. see the difference? you jump to conclusions in your original statement and imply he did something wrong. “innocent until proven guilty”

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  • Dude August 24, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Apparently, Jonathan will not allow posts critical of the PPB on this thread. How hypocritical and unfair.

    Dude, just make your criticisms w/o resorting to name-calling and I’ll be happy to post it. — JM

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    • Paul Johnson August 26, 2011 at 1:46 am

      I keep saying it’d be better if comments were self-moderated. This would require the “thumbs down” button, collapsing low-rated comments (though you’d still be able to expand them manually), and highlighting high-rated comments. This would be a better reflection of the opinion of cyclists rather than just the opinions Jonathan agrees with.

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  • Ted Buehler August 24, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Captain Wyatt is the man who made this statement at the 2011 Portland Transportation Summit.

    “I hate to say it because it may upset some people, but most of the people killed last year who were pedestrians, most of the time it’s the pedestrian’s fault. I’m sorry but I want people to know that so they cross safely.”

    At the time, I was highly unimpressed with his enthusiasm to blame the victims. Not only is it counterproductive in determining how to make streets safer for all users, its in rather poor taste to blame the deceased.

    If Capt. Wyatt is replaced, I would hope that his successor can lead us in a more productive assessment of traffic safety in Portland.

    Ted Buehler

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    • Steve August 24, 2011 at 1:54 pm

      Deceased or not, if it is their fault, it is their fault. Ignoring that fact will only lead to more deceased people. You have to recognize the cause of a problem before you can fix it, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

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      • Paul in the 'Couve August 25, 2011 at 4:46 pm

        Deceased or not, if it is their fault, it is their fault. Ignoring that fact will only lead to more deceased people. You have to recognize the cause of a problem before you can fix it, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
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        And ignoring a street system that encourages high speed (35 mph ++) and distracted driving while not providing safe crossings at reasonable intervals is part of the cause for people taking such risks. No, pedestrians who do something stupid and get killed aren’t blameless victims but recognizing that streets that by design make safe and legal crossing very inconvenient and drivers who are oblivious and a justice system that defaults to treating pedestrian death as “an accident” with “no criminality” the other half of the problem.

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        • wsbob August 29, 2011 at 11:27 pm

          “…And ignoring a street system that encourages high speed (35 mph ++) and distracted driving while not providing safe crossings at reasonable intervals is part of the cause for people taking such risks. …” Paul in the ‘Couve

          True enough. For people familiar with the Beaverton area, consider this situation:

          170th between Johnson St (approximate entrance/exit point for the THPRD Nature Park.), Augusta Ln (south border of Beaver Acres school) and Baseline. This is a two lane road; of recent years, some subdivisions on it, a high school too, and a signaled crosswalk on the north perimeter of the grade school property at Merlo.

          It’s still basically a country road…no regularly spaced street grid, no stop signs, no other traffic/crosswalk lights. It does have bike lanes, but there’s frequently a tremendous volume of motor vehicle traffic on the road. There’s a posted speed limit sign for south bound traffic at Augusta (leading away from the grade school.): 40mph.

          Johnson St, where the entrance to the nature park is located, is about a quarter mile south of the school. People on foot and on bikes, have no stop sign or traffic lights to help them cross the street safely. Traffic volume being huge and traveling 40mph-50mph, means people on foot and bike crossing the street to get to the park entrance have to have their senses and reflexes absolutely on high to make it across with no incident.

          To make it safely, you almost have to have some of the eyesight of Chuck Yeager, and the speed of Usain Bolt.

          Why, along a fairly short section of road, essentially a country road that includes a nature park entrance and two public schools, a road along which a good number of people live, recreate, and go to school, does the county maintain such a high motor vehicle speed limit?

          Engineering for the installation of traffic signals, and the actual installation, costs a lot of money. Understandable that such measures wouldn’t be promptly implemented. It shouldn’t require a highly paid publicly employed engineers consultation to recognize that reducing the speed limit on this road from 40mph to…25mph would be so much safer and still permit efficient travel…and would cost nothing…outside of making a half dozen new signs and bolting them up to the existing posts.

          Everyday, with easily resolvable situations like this one all over the metro area, people’s lives are placed at unnecessary risk.

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          • Paul Johnson August 30, 2011 at 12:34 am

            170th doesn’t have bike lanes south of Baseline. The high school isn’t new, I graduated from there over a decade ago. I do remember when the nature park was a mountain bike park and THPRD saying it was going to stay a mountain bike park…right up until the day it was paved over and signs went up saying “Bikes Must Stay On Pavement.” I remember when almost everything between the high school and 185th, and between there and Elmonica Elementary was farmland, though. It’s too bad we can’t go back to that, 170th was actually bicycle accessible despite having a 55mph limit then.

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      • Bjorn August 29, 2011 at 5:05 pm

        It is true, just like if this cop had shot and killed the motorist he pulled the gun on it would have been the victims fault for not wearing a bullet proof vest. Blaming the victim is offensive!

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    • wsbob August 25, 2011 at 9:49 am

      From that same story you provided the link to, another quote of Wyatt’s is included:

      “…Capt. Wyatt also recounted the serious crash on SW Multnomah Blvd that happened on Friday as a result of a woman who was distracted by her barking dog in the back seat of her car. “That bicyclist would be out of the hospital today and on their way to recovery if they were wearing a helmet,” Capt. Wyatt said, “It wasn’t their fault for the accident, but they’re going to have to take responsibility for why they’re injured more for the rest of their lives.” …”

      Really? Did Wyatt really know enough about the injuries the guy on the bike sustained, to have made such a claim about how much wearing a bike helmet would have reduced this persons person’s injuries?

      As to Wyatt’s intent in his comment relating to pedestrians being at fault in most pedestrian deaths of a previous year, it he’s speaking to a specific list of incidents and their circumstances, rather than a generalized view of road user responsibility, there could be some validity to that. Was Wyatt saying ‘In a collision between a pedestrian and a motor vehicle, the pedestrian is generally at fault.’ ? Or something more specific? The law recognizes that pedestrians have the right of way, but simple fact is that in order to survive conditions on the roadway, the pedestrian still has to cover unforeseen eventualities.

      Recently up on Fairmount, riding counter clockwise on the east side downhill stretch, around an outside curve, I come upon a not very tall, older lady on foot, so to speak, on the edge of the road of the lane I was in. Her backside was kind of hanging into the lane of travel. She was wearing an orange vest, but presented a very low profile, because she was crouched down, pulling weeds…not in front of a residence where someone might be expected to be pulling weeds on this road, but along the empty, heavily wooded ravine lot next to her house.

      It wasn’t a close call for us, because I was riding the middle of the lane, but I was quite surprised to suddenly see her there. Just as easily though, someone on a bike or a car could have swung around the curve, hugging the edge of the road and clipped this lady.

      When a pedestrian in such a situation is hit, does the fault lie with the person driving or riding? Does it lie with the police for not being there, enforcing laws that protect pedestrians? Does it lie with the pedestrian for not taking greater care in creating a safer work area, by putting traffic cones or some such thing, out on the road?

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      • middle of the road guy August 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm

        You don’t have to be a doctor to have common sense.

        I have broken a helmet before and I can tell you that I would have had a more severe injury than I did had I not been wearing a helmet.

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        • are August 25, 2011 at 9:21 pm

          and i know people who have been injured by their helmet

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          • Paul Johnson August 25, 2011 at 9:41 pm

            And people get burned by airbags when they sit too close to the wheel. That doesn’t mean they kill more people than they save.

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        • matt picio August 31, 2011 at 1:07 pm

          But the question in this case is did THAT person have a broken helmet? Sure, in the case of a head injury, common sense dictates that a helmet likely would reduce or prevent injury / death. But not all injuries are head injuries, and if cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the torso, then helmet use is irrelevant.

          We’ve had the helmet “religious wars” innumerable times on this site. Regardless of your position in the matter, 2 things are true:

          1. If there is no head injury, it doesn’t matter if they were wearing a helmet
          2. If there is a head injury, it’s likely that a helmet would have been protective – that does not mean it would outright prevent injury or death.

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  • Ted Buehler August 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Good point.

    Come to think of it, I blame the deceased all the time with car crashes.

    How about:
    “It’s not a good problem-solving strategy to blame the deceased in a situation where there are two sides of the story, and one side is not able to share their side.”

    Also, I highly question whether “most of the time its the pedestrian’s fault.” In one sense, yes, they were out walking on the public infrastructure and didn’t correctly dodge the cars. But on the other hand, the laws are written to protect that behavior, and a lot of people are killed when they are on the correct side of the law. In those cases, it’s not “the pedestrian’s fault” so much as the fault of those given the charge to ensure that laws are followed. i.e. the PPB.

    Ted Buehler

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    • Ted Buehler August 25, 2011 at 12:40 am

      On the “blaming the victim” problem —

      A year or two ago I read in The Oregonian that a suburban Salem man was killed while walking on a street near his house. It was at dawn, his dog had run off, and he was distraught, trying to find it. He was hit by some early morning commuter in poor visibility. (The dog was also killed by traffic, it turns out).

      So, was it the victim’s fault?

      My thinking is that the man was not a regular pedestrian. He probably didn’t give much thought to wearing a bright colored, reflective outfit. He was trying to find his dog.

      An educational program to prevent this death would require big posters in the mud room of every house — “if you need to go out on the street in an emergency, here’s what you do —
      * wear bright clothes
      * watch out for cars
      * walk in the grass, not on the edge of the pavement

      My thinking is that rather than try to put up warning signs for pedestrians in every laundry room in suburban Oregon, we just enforce the existing traffic laws.
      * no speeding
      * no driving with foggy/dirty windshields
      * no driving while texting
      * no driving while using a cell phone
      * don’t follow too close.

      And, we’d solve lots of other transportation safety issues as well. Not only would cars not run into people as often, but they wouldn’t run into each other as often either. Insurance would cost less, folks would save fuel, folks would save on repair bills, save on hospital bills, and there wouldn’t be so many people walking around with damaged bodies.

      That’s why I took issue with Capt. Wyatt’s February comments.

      (Kinda off topic, but not really…)

      Ted Buehler

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      • are August 25, 2011 at 11:04 am

        not to pile on, but wyatt has more than once been the source of very unhelpful commentary on joe rose’s blog

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      • matt picio August 31, 2011 at 1:12 pm

        It was categorically not the victim’s fault in that case. Visibility of clothing is irrelevant. The operator of any vehicle is subject to the basic speed law, meaning whatever the numbers on the sign say, the operator must drive slowly enough to react to events regardless of the road or environmental conditions. The exception is when a pedestrian suddenly moves into the path of the vehicle too close for the operator to react and stop in time.

        Even if the pedestrian wears black at night, the driver is supposed to have headlights, and be driving slow enough to stop. If they “couldn’t see them in time”, then they are driving too fast for conditions.

        The key test is this – is it the fault of an inanimate object (downed power pole, rockslide, etc) when a car rounds a corner at night and strikes it? If you say “no”, then it’s also not the fault of a pedestrian acting legally, regardless of road conditions, clothing, reflective items, etc.

        Also note that not being at fault won’t make you any less dead. Lack of legal obligation isn’t an effective survival strategy. Know the law, but take precautions if you want to live.

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    • middle of the road guy August 25, 2011 at 12:16 pm

      Way to twist things.

      If a pedestrian darts out into a highway at night wearing dark clothing, it is not a fault of the system. It is poor judgment.

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      • matt picio August 31, 2011 at 1:13 pm

        If he was legally there and not too close to traffic, then it’s the fault of the driver, not the pedestrian nor the system. (see above)

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  • Roger Averbeck August 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    In all of my public meeting interactions with Capt. Wyatt, he has been respectful and dedicated to safety for all traffic modes. Just last week at the Ped & Bike Safety TAC meeting at PBOT, he shared stories of the great bike riding he had done with family on vacation along the “Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes” a 70 plus mile multi use path in N. Idaho.

    This news story is surprising and completely out of character for Capt. Wyatt. I’ll wait for the results of the investigation.

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  • Mike August 24, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    While I agree that judgement should be witheld until all of the facts are in and reported, police officers should be held to a higher standard of conduct because of the positions of trust and authority that they have in the community. If Captain Wyatt did in fact brandish a weapon during a fit of road rage he should be stripped of his badge and dismessed with prejudice from the police force.

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    • middle of the road guy August 25, 2011 at 12:16 pm

      What about mayors?

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      • are August 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm

        what an original and clever comment. there is a mechanism for removing the mayor, and it has been attempted twice to no effect, except that he will not seek a second term. the mechanism for removing a municipal employee is a bit more direct.

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      • matt picio August 31, 2011 at 1:14 pm

        Whose mayor brandished a gun recently? I agree, boot them out!

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  • Joe Rowe August 24, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Ted has a quote that stands alone. Even if a pedestrian made an error that caused his/her own death due to car, that does not give anyone the right to blame the victim. It says more about the person with the judgemental words than it says about the victim.

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    • matt picio August 31, 2011 at 1:17 pm

      Bull – people have a right to blame the victim all they want. The fact that it’s in poor taste doesn’t relieve them of their right to their opinion, nor to free speech.

      Assuming you mean “warranted” rather than “right” – if the person committed an action which directly caused their death, it’s perfectly valid and warranted to say they were responsible for their demise. Yes, it’s in poor taste, especially in front of the family.

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  • captainkarma August 24, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    no further comment necessary

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  • Harvey August 25, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Ladies and gentlemen, I think we found the right cop to deal with the rock creek road dickwaffle.

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  • benschon August 26, 2011 at 3:08 pm
    • wsbob August 26, 2011 at 5:22 pm

      benschon….thanks for digging up that article. I’d read it previously, but forgot where. From what it describes, it seems to me that Wyatt is quick to anger. A hothead.

      Which is not always bad, because in many situations I imagine cops find themselves confronted by, a passive individual isn’t going to get done what needs to be done. The challenge for Wyatt, which he seems to be aware of, is to moderate his natural temperament to the extent that act on a call and get the job done without stepping outside the boundaries of reasonable authority and legality.

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