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.
— Chief Danielle Outlaw (@ChiefDOutlaw) April 11, 2019
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.
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.)
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.
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