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Amid spate of collisions, Portland Police Chief calls for more enforcement

Posted by on April 11th, 2019 at 4:55 pm

With 14 fatal traffic crashes so far this year and six in the past four days, Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw couldn’t stay quiet any longer.

PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw.

Since she was hired in October 2017, Chief Outlaw has had many intense issues to focus on: from a crisis-level officer shortage to violent protests. She hasn’t engaged on transportation safety issues. Until now.

In a tweet posted today, Chief Outlaw wrote:

“6 fatal crashes in 5 days! 27 people have died on our streets this year. I am directing officers to increase enforcement, but this is everyone’s responsibility. Drivers slow down, don’t drive impaired/distracted. Bikes and peds use caution—don’t assume drivers see you.”

(Note: It’s unclear where she got the 27 deaths figure. To be clear, there have been 14 traffic-related fatalities so far this year and the PPB’s Major Crash Team has been called out 23 times.)

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Asked for specifics about the increased enforcement, Portland Police Bureau Public Information Officer Sgt. Brad Yakots wrote in an email to BikePortland, “Our Traffic Division and precincts are providing extra patrols in high trafficked areas. Our focus is education and outreach.”

“I want to make sure your support of Vision Zero is Vision Zero as it is now, which is not enhanced law enforcement.”
— Jo Ann Hardesty, Portland City Commissioner

Chief Outlaw’s call for enforcement puts her in the middle of an ongoing debate about how best to use police officers in Portland’s quest for safer streets. More enforcement is a common request when traffic crashes are in the news; but fears of racial profiling put it on shaky political ground in Portland.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Vision Zero Action Plan passed in 2016 with a host of recommendations from PBOT’s Vision Zero Task Force. Among them was a specific intention to limit enforcement, “In order to reduce the possibility of racial profiling and disparate economic impacts.”

This recommendation was not without its detractors on the Task Force. Newly elected City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty has also expressed concerns about increased enforcement.

In a debate prior to her election last year, Hardesty said she’s “absolutely terrified of more enforcement.” “When I hear public leaders talk about enhancing police presence…we know African-Americans and Latinos are targeted for more enforcement than anyone else.”

And Hardesty repeated this concern at a City Council Budget Work Session on March 12th. During a presentation about PBOT’s budget, Hardesty said, “I want to make sure your support of Vision Zero is Vision Zero as it is now, which is not enhanced law enforcement, but more about notifying speeders to slow down.”

Hardesty’s colleague, PBOT Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, had a much different tone at the same work session. In her introduction to the PBOT presentation, Eudaly lamented the lack of more enforcement funding in the budget. “I’m really disappointed to see there’s no request for an increase in traffic enforcement,” she said. “In 2018 we had 27 murders in Portland. We had 34 people die in traffic deaths. We are seeing rampant disregard for the law and human life on our streets and the Traffic Division is seriously understaffed. Our city has adopted Vision Zero and we’re diligently working on that. We can’t accomplish our goal without support of Police Bureau.”

With Chief Outlaw now engaged on the issue, Commissioner Eudaly has momentum to push for more enforcement; but it’s unlikely to happen without a debate.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Great news! (And about time.) I hope the chain of command embraces this and we see some citywide outcomes and this safety crisis is then supported by the community and courts.
[Sadly, it would seem…that few police officers pick this career and goto the police academy to enforce traffic laws for the outcome of safer streets for all… pedestrians, cyclists, youth and elderly plus drivers themselves…vs. the institutional acculturation of just catching the bad “hombres” and not your neighbor driving aggressively through a crosswalk with a pedestrian. ]

dwk
Guest
dwk

About time..
I have not seen a traffic stop of any kind in the last month or so and I ride 300 miles around this city each month.
I hardly ever see police in neighborhood streets at all….
Not many people in either cars, bikes or walking or following laws because they don’t need to.

mark
Guest
mark

Hardesty said, “I want to make sure your support of Vision Zero is Vision Zero as it is now, which is not enhanced law enforcement, but more about notifying speeders to slow down.”

Color me cynical, but asking speeders to, “slow down, pretty please” seems unlikely to work.

q
Guest
q

Maybe the police would have a bit more time to devote to enforcement if they didn’t have to cleanup for other agencies per my experience today. I called PBOT because there was a large (200-300 pounds at least) rock in the middle of the lane on SW Taylors Ferry Road. “That’s ODOT’s jurisdiction”. I called ODOT. “That’s PBOT’s jurisdiction”. So I called the Portland Police. “We’ll take care of it.”

Scott Kocher
Guest

In the past PPB has not supported automated enforcement. A PPB Sergeant once told me we didn’t have enough officers but he opposed automated enforcement because it “lacks the human touch.” I hope in the current climate we can free up officers so they’re not doing tasks a camera can do, placement can be reviewed for equity and safety need, fines can be graduated based on income as elsewhere, and revenue (if there is any) can go to infrastructure.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

We’re not going to reach our Vision Zero goals with occasional educational warnings. PBOT needs to step up their engineering to the point that 85% of drivers are afraid to exceed the 20mph speed limit (for fear of scratching their paint). That’s not painted 10-11ft lanes and additional 2ft shy distance from anything that could possibly harm your car. It’s more like being frequently confronted with a 7-9ft wide passage made of immovable obstacles and generally making every street except access-controlled highways unusable for crosstown travel.

David Hampsten
Guest

The “27 people have died on our streets this year” probably includes a certain number of homicides as well (drive-bys, etc), not just crashes. Remember that this a police officer speaking, not some flunky from PBOT.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Member

This gets to the heart of what is wrong with police. The answer to every problem is not more police it requires much bigger answers. We need to reform how our streets are designed and for who (currently it is the car, it needs to be humans).

Why are 50% of arrests people experiencing homelessness? We need to raise a lot more taxes and have a more robust social safety net. Again more police doesnt solve the problem..

No democracy has solved any of these problems with more policing. Someday I hope the police understand this because they could be a powerful ally in reforming the system for the 21st century.

9watts
Subscriber

“Bikes and peds use caution—don’t assume drivers see you.”

This was the part that I felt rankled. What is with the fake balance?

Civilians, don’t forget there are troops patrolling your streets; stay inside.

Pat B
Guest
Pat B

The problem in Portland should be obvious. And it starts at the top. Elect a mayor that gives a damn about the city and let the police do their job to get all those domestic terrorists off the streets. Then there would be safer streets.

Adam M
Guest
Adam M

Way to go Jo Ann! We wouldn’t want the police to be policing our streets! No wonder why ppd can’t get officers to stay.

Rivelo
Guest

About a year and a half ago, I exchanged emails with the police captain then in charge of traffic enforcement regarding some ongoing speeding issues we were/are having in our neighborhood in NE Portland.

He told me that on any given day, he had 4 officers available to him for “enforcement,” and zero back-ups for vacations and sick days.

In fact, other departments were pulling from *his* staff to cover those absences in their departments.

Four officers –on a good day– for 145 square miles of Portland, Oregon.

That right there is some scary s–t.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Traffic enforcement should be a no brainer. It’s fast, easy and lucrative. Hand out the tickets. Collect the money. In extreme cases confiscate the vehicle and sell it.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

This city has lost it’s bike mojo…big time.

JJJ
Guest

Camera enforcement is needed. There is no bias/discrimination issue with them if they are installed at high crash locations. You speed, you pay, period. Doesnt matter who you are or who you know.

Michael Ingrassia
Guest
Michael Ingrassia

I’m mad as hell. They now have 20mph signs everywhere. Time to pull over every red light racer. Time to get cops looking from a bikes eye view into peoples drivers windows to see the cellphone in their lap and signaling to their partner a block away to pull them over with the others. Time to treat negligence behind the wheel as the antisocial use of a deadly weapon that it is. Can you take out your gun and wave it around in a bar? No. You shouldn’t be able to hot rod around in your car either.

Joyce Lefforge
Guest
Joyce Lefforge

The only way to reduce these accidents is for all people to be more responsible and aware of their surroundings. You can add more officers and cameras, but if people don’t change the way they act, nothing will change.

SD
Guest
SD

One immediate improvement would be for all communications from the Portland Police and all other city agencies to stop “both-siding” their street safety message. Across the board, the data show that driver behavior contributes to pedestrian injury and fatality far more than that of pedestrians. Despite this, many people as well as many media outlets believe that the cause is distracted pedestrians. If there is any point to making a public statement like the one from Outlaw, it is to give drivers pause to consider if they are driving in a way that is more dangerous than it needs to be. When the PPB calls out pedestrian behavior, it is interpreted by many drivers to mean that their windshield-biased notion that it’s the victim’s fault is true. And, since they already consider their driving habits safe, regardless of whether they speed or drive while looking at their cell phones, this message just reinforces their idea that every thing they do is fine, because nothing bad has happened to them yet, or if it has it was just once or twice.

Statements like these show that very few in Portland government have taken the very first baby steps of understanding Vision Zero that include, at the least, making statements that target the most harmful factors in road safety.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

I’d like to know who’s going to stop our local police from speeding. I was just outside working in the yard and a Sheriff went by and got the speed monitor down the street blinking “SLOW DOWN SLOW DOWN.”

Ruben
Guest
Ruben

Redesigning the streets is an effective first strategy. Streets that have had a road diet, like division between the 60th and 82nd or Glisan between 53rd and 82nd have seen decreased accidents. Frankly, I’d like to see Cesar Chavez be 2 lanes with a middle turn lane. The speeding and passing to get around cars turning left is a crazy hazard to other cars and pedestrians. If a street looks safe to drive fast, people will drive fast. In residential neighborhoods in SE, people drive fast because the streets are wide and often there are no stop signs. Also, street lighting in Portland is atrocious. Put some street level lights at the corners or at crosswalks. For that matter, paint some crosswalks. In the dark and the rain, it’s hard to see bikers and pedestrians.

All that being said, I think enforcement is important. The drivers of Portland feel invincible because there is NO enforcement. Even random enforcement that rotated from neighborhood to neighborhood would be better than none. And put in red light cameras. It’s crazy how endemic running red lights has become.

don’t assume drivers see you
Guest
don’t assume drivers see you

“don’t assume drivers see you”

that says it all right there, doesn’t it?
and that is where the majority of drivers feel the responsibility ultimately lies.

the ONUS is literally ON US.
So they no longer have to look out for us or attempt at operating their tonnes of motor vehicles safely, since they truly believe it is up to us to be responsible for our own safety, hell, for our own LIVES.

It just keeps getting uglier out there.

Mark smith
Guest
Mark smith

Truck drivers are targets for random and enhanced enforcement year round and are often targeted for the mere act of parking. They are targeted whether they are black, white, brown or blue. We need trucks, we rarely need driving. Sorry, if you are in a car expect to have your papers checked and your laws enforced.

Chris Imondi
Guest
Chris Imondi

Automated enforcement is the answer. I drove outer-Division yesterday, and the 30mph limit and speed cameras have drastically changed the average speed. Not a single person was doing over 35. A year ago, people would have been blowing by me at 50mph. We need legal authority to put speed cameras on every major street in the city.