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Police chief, union leader warn budget cuts would end Traffic Division

Posted by on October 30th, 2020 at 1:00 pm

Traffic Division headquarters in St. Johns.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The head of the Portland Police Bureau and the Portland Police Association union have sent out dire warnings about impacts to law enforcement capabilities if a proposal (PDF) for $18 million in budget cuts are passed by council next week. Chief Chuck Lovell and PPA President Daryl Turner have many concerns about the cuts including what they say would lead to the end of the Traffic Division — the unit that issues about 90% of all traffic tickets, responds to transportation-related concerns and investigates serious injury and fatal crashes.

As we shared yesterday, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly have laid out the cuts as part of their ongoing efforts to rein in a “bloated” budget and “rethink” policing — which they feel isn’t in line with Portland values and has become overly-aggressive and militarized.

Their $18 million proposal would amount a 15% reduction to the PPB’s current $230 million General Fund allocation, which makes up about 4.1% of the total city budget. As outlined in a memo to city council members October 19th, the cuts would require PPB to reduce spending bureau-wide on expenses like munitions and officer overtime, and eliminate 42 positions recently left vacant due to retirements. Hardesty’s proposal also call for eliminating the Special Emergency Response Team, a move that would save $634,000.

In a statement yesterday, Chief Lovell said, “The Bureau would have to eliminate programs that provide necessary services… These include the Traffic Division [which] investigates traffic fatalities and attempts to reduce crashes through traffic law enforcement.” And PPA President Turner echoed that claim when he said the proposal would lead to, “Elimination of the Traffic Division, resulting in the lost enforcement of traffic laws, deterrence of bad driving that can have deadly consequences, and investigations into traffic fatalities.”

A closer look at Hardesty’s proposal reveals no specific requirement to end the Traffic Division. And the Commissioner says if PPB made that move it would be their decision, not hers.

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PPB programs 2020-21 adopted budget.

Just for context, the Traffic Division is one of many “specialty units” at the PPB. Its current annual funding is $8.4 million which is 3.7% of the total police budget (compare that the the Drugs & Vice Unit at 3.4% or Information Technology Unit at 4.3%). While a small piece of the PPB pie, the Traffic Division has an outsized impact on our experience as road users. They issue about 90% of all traffic-related citations, they conduct “enforcement actions” on crosswalk laws, DUII and speeding, and their Major Crash Team investigates all fatal and serious injury crashes.

“While these were not items I recommended the bureau cut, they are the subject-matter experts. They’ve shown us they can in fact meet the cut amount proposed.”
— Jo Ann Hardesty, city commissioner

Reached for comment about the police statement today, Commissioner Hardesty said she was pleased to see them “having internal conversations to rethink community safety and assess what is or is not needed to serve all Portlanders.” As for the concerns about the Traffic Division, Hardesty said, “While these were not items I recommended the bureau cut, they are the subject-matter experts. They’ve shown us they can in fact meet the cut amount proposed, and I am open to talking with them about how these transitions can be made as I know the community is anxious to explore more ways to keep Portlanders safe on roads and sidewalks.”

Hardesty has long been skeptical of the role of police in traffic enforcement. In fact she and her current close ally Commissioner Eudaly used to disagree strongly on the issue. Eudaly, who leads the transportation bureau, used to strongly support police enforcement. Hardesty on the other hand has long been concerned about giving armed officers such a large role in traffic stops.

At a candidate forum in April 2018 Hardesty said she’s “absolutely terrified of more enforcement” on our streets. And when Hardesty shared concerns about “over-criminalizing one segment of our community” with enhanced traffic enforcement — without first improving infrastructure — as part of Vision Zero efforts, Eudaly said she was “disappointed” in her opinion. And in May 2019 Eudaly and Hardesty disagreed about how to spend the PPB’s cannabis tax revenue. Eudaly wanted more Traffic Division officers hired. Hardesty wanted the focus to be on clearing records of people jailed for minor drug possession.

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Instead of more enforcement that is likely to lead to profiling and disparate impacts on Black Portlanders, Hardesty wants better infrastructure and technology. “What we know from public health experts (such as Dr. Jon Jay from Boston University) is when we look at these issues through a public health lens, we see that traffic enforcement does not improve outcomes; technology and infrastructure upgrades do. I am more than happy to look at reinvestments that can be made to infrastructure to build systems that can truly keep Portlanders safe.”

And Eudaly now agrees.

In her closing remarks at the dramatic city council meeting Wednesday, Eudaly did something rare for a politician. She admitted she was wrong:

“I understand [my colleagues’] fear of getting this wrong. We could get this wrong. That’s where I was just 16 months ago. I was afraid to support Commissioner Hardesty’s budget amendments to cut specialty units. I was concerned that the void left by eliminating these teams could lead to even worse outcomes for our community. So, my heart was in the right place. But I was wrong. It’s hard to imagine to imagine an alternative to a system when it’s all you’ve ever known. But that’s what this moment demands of us.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Pete S.
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Pete S.

Ok, sounds good!

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Crash investigations could be outsourced to private companies that specialize in that sort of thing. The county sheriff and state patrol would likely take over the “armed police traffic stops” that everyone hates.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest
Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)

I wonder what JoAnn thinks about traffic cameras.

I remember driving with a dutch friend in the Netherlands on the freeway. There was a temporary speed camera check point. Everyone who drove past one point had a pic of their plate taken and about a mile away another pic was taken. If your average speed inbetween was higher than the speed limit you automatically got a ticket.

Make fines progressive and have community council oversee where they are deployed. Use fine money for safety improvements.

Evan
Guest
Evan

I LOVE Hardesty’s response. Yep, they’ve shown they can do it, so there’s no problem 🙂

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

We have a traffic division?

Momo
Guest
Momo

If traffic cops are replaced with things like speed cameras and red light cameras all over the city, and we offer alternatives to fines for people who truly can’t afford them (like taking safety classes), that would be a win for both safety and racial equity. I’m really pleased to see Commissioners Hardesty and Eudaly take on this tough issue.

Nathan Hinkle
Guest
Nathan Hinkle

What traffic enforcement? I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees blatant disregard for traffic laws constantly, and nary a traffic stop in sight. And the data show that when PPB does make the rare traffic stop, it’s often racially profiled. The most dangerous drivers I encounter tend to be folks driving luxury SUVs and large pickups who know they won’t be stopped, and that if they do they’re likely to get off with a warning. Automated enforcement is more equitable and catches far more people. We do need a limited number of officers to stop extremely dangerous drivers (like impaired drivers or active road rage), but PPB already barely responds to those types of calls. A couple months ago I encountered a person (likely drunk or high) on Mt Tabor driving an SUV with the entire windshield smashed in, who tried to drive off road up a hill into the park, then gave up and sped off down Harrison. The dispatcher told me they would “let officers know to keep an eye out for them”, but I stayed in the area for a while and nobody responded. It’s clear that the Traffic Division is barely doing any good for the city as it is.

I would like to see the city take a serious look at transferring responsibility for major crash investigations to PBOT. This would serve two goals: one, we don’t need armed police to investigate a collision, and two, it would give the agency that is responsible for designing and maintaining our streets a much more direct view of how their design/management results in serious injury crashes. Traffic engineers could be trained on the same crash investigation and reconstruction that the PPB Traffic Division officers currently are, and investigations could be rotated among staff with other duties. Funding saved from the police bureau could be used to fund additional positions to accommodate this new workload.

I also think that traffic-related emergency response should be removed entirely from the police bureau and managed by PBOT as well. If you listen to the fire scanner (can’t listen to the police scanner anymore because they’ve encrypted it to avoid accountability), you will hear firefighters frequently request police respond to an incident for traffic control. Any time there’s a collision (or a fire, a gas leak, flooding, or any other traffic incident) we have expensive and deadly police responding to stand around and direct traffic. PBOT could be given additional funding to add a limited number of full-time traffic incident responders available for immediate emergency response, and could cross-train existing maintenance division staff who could divert from day-to-day maintenance work to respond to larger incidents. Seattle DOT has a successful incident response team, and ODOT runs a similar program on freeways state-wide which reduces how often OSP needs to respond merely for traffic control. These staff would be trained for emergency vehicle response and could perform all the same traffic control that police do, and as an added bonus, could help ensure that hazardous debris are removed from the ROW after an incident – something police certainly never do. When we switched from using police for traffic control at Sunday Parkways to using PBOT staff (initially) and then contracted flaggers (a couple years later), traffic flow became smoother, and participants felt more comfortable at the event.

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

Cutting the police budget to fund $7.5 million to provide legal assistance for Portland tenants fighting eviction, $7.4 million for food assistance, $1 million for a hygiene station program and another $1 million for outdoor shelters. What in the world? How will that improve public safety? We need a comprehensive plan to improve public safety (including traffic safety, bicycle safety and pedestrian safety) before rushing into cutting police funding. Alternative programs (such as a Eugene’s CAHOOTS street response) need to be up and ready to implement BEFORE decimating our current approach. This plan is re-directing money in a “willy-nilly” fashion to whatever sounds good to the ideologues Hardesty and Eudaly and their bases. They took this straight out of TRUMP’s PLAYBOOK….play to your base! Say no to this divisive and ineffective proposal.
https://www.opb.org/article/2020/10/28/defund-portland-police-budget-vote/

James
Guest
James

There’s a traffic division? You could have fooled me! Drivers in this town speed with impunity, run stop sign and red lights and break all sorts of laws without any fear of repercussion because there is no enforcement in place. Cars on SE 136th between Foster and Holgate drive much faster than the 25mph posted speed limit. Frankly, I don’t know why this city bothered to lower speed limits because hardly anybody observes them and if someone does (oh horrors) cars will pass on center turn lanes and on bike lanes! This town is a mess and I can’t wait to leave it!

roberta
Guest
roberta

If we put speed kill switches on all cars inside the urban core we wouldn’t need any cops downtown. Cap all vehicular speed at 20 mph, except freeways at 45 mph. easy-peasy cheap and tasty food carts will rejoice in new pedestrian and bike traffic.

JMD
Guest
JMD

Shouldn’t the decision about where the cuts are made come from the Police Commissioner, not the Chief (appointed by the commissioner) and the Union? Everything that happens with PPB makes it appear as if they are running the show and are not accountable to anyone.

If Ted wins, he’ll continue being Police Commissioner and he should be able to direct the department where to make the necessary cuts. If Ted loses, Hardesty will become Police Commissioner and she can implement her plan.

Enough of PPB and the Union and their threats. They need to be held accountable. This threat to cut the Traffic Division is likely a bad faith attempt to turn people against these budget cuts by claiming that the budget cuts will make our streets less safe (though does anyone really believe PPB is enforcing traffic violations in a way that makes anyone more safe?).

Bicycling Al
Guest
Bicycling Al

Statistically, crime rates* have been falling across this country and the cost of policing has been falling as well as new technology and tools result in a force multiplier effect. So why have police budgets continued to INCREASE? Then when a budget cut is called for, police leadership ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS go fear mongering by putting popular programs on the chopping block FIRST!

Also, didn’t Oregon legalize pot? Didn’t this result in a huge drop in demand for police to dig a hole and fill it up again? Why was there no “peace dividend” when this occurred?

* – crime rates don’t include white collar crime which has seen the opposite trend. The vast majority of crime by value is wage theft. Wage theft dwarfs all other forms of crime.

Jon
Guest
Jon

I’m beginning to think that the CHOP experiment up in Seattle is a pretty good preview for what our city is going to look like after a couple of years of Iannarone and Hardesty in charge of the police. The reason we have police is that there is a small percentage of the population that are just plain evil. They murder, rape, beat, and rob. I don’t want to have to buy a gun or put bars over every window of my residence so I’m counting on the police to take care of the criminals. Do the police and the police union need reform? Yes, but I would think that might require more funding for them to be able to do the right job. Training is not free. Shootings and murder are way up this year in Portland. Would you be willing to run over to your neighbor’s house un-armed if a car stops in front of it and starts shooting it up? Probably not. Criminals have a nearly unlimited supply of easily accessible firearms due to our crazy set of gun laws. Our heavily armed society is why police have to carry guns and why they have to be paranoid every time they deal with a citizen. https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/05/us/chop-seattle-police-protesters-public-safety/index.html

Josh Chernoff
Guest

We have a traffic division?

encephalopath
Guest
encephalopath

Cut the PPB budget in half and lay off half the officers. Do something helpful with the money instead. Portland police are useless in achieving any sort of public safety outcome.

There are lots of thing this city could do with $100 million that don’t involve harassing homeless people repeatedly. Like say, maybe helping helping those who are out of doors.

pdx2wheeler
Guest
pdx2wheeler

My bad, thought it already happened.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

Per the automated enforcement discussion: let us make it citywide and issue only warnings for 1 year. This would collect a board assessment of where and how much of a problem is without raising the fairness or other amendment issues [or paying a PPB officer to be on hand to validate every ticket]. And yes the cost of this safety education service would require outside funding.

squareman
Subscriber

Sounds like they’re trying to hold the public’s safety hostage to me. Joke’s on them, they hardly enforce traffic laws as is. Who would notice?

q'Tzal
Guest
q'Tzal

Red light cameras.
Speed cameras.
Day-fines.

Consistent, uniform enforcement without the automated devices “getting scared” and shooting.

PPD BS
Guest
PPD BS

BS! Half the people they arrest are homeless: https://www.oregonlive.com/crime/2020/10/booking-homeless-portlanders-into-jail-is-endless-expensive-cycle-that-arrests-dont-curb-but-housing-does.html

They’re wasting huge amounts of money! “ arresting and jailing people living on the street doesn’t measurably curtail crime, the [Oregonian] analysis found.”

Time for a deep outside audit of the police to find out just where all the cash is wasted. The city needs to seize control of this huge waste of taxpayer dollars.

Bike Guy
Guest
Bike Guy

Anyone else planning on leaving Portland as soon as their employer confirms they can WFH permanently?

JR
Guest
JR

I can’t remember ever seeing a traffic stop in my 15 years living in Portland. PPB has long benefited from being seen as a necessity with overwhelming public support, so they’ve hardly dealt with cuts in the past. From an outsider’s perspective (I’m not in the PPB), but one who works in a government division, I see how government agencies can be bloated, particularly when they are represented by such a strong union. Until Hardesty, no one even pushed against the PPB’s budget. They can make these cuts and learn how to be more efficient while working toward the common goal of moving to a different model of public safety in which armed officers aren’t the first response to every 911 call.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

It’s a common tactic when facing cuts for agencies to put highly useful/popular things on the chopping block first. So claims that Traffic Division would end should be taken with a grain of salt.

However, the undying faith shown by some in technology to magically make problems disappear is even more suspect. In our Brave New World of automation, drunk drivers aren’t noticed until they crash or do something particularly heinous, it does nothing against those who game the technology, and there’s no way it will actually get deployed everywhere.

Simply trying to eliminate the cops, make things hard for those who drive, or pretending the world will be rebuilt to be something totally different is a road to nowhere. When your only real message is ACAB, it causes people to not take you seriously on issues that could lead to real progress with police tactics and their budget.

A couple weeks ago, about 30 shots were popped off near Lombard and Denver, miraculously no one was killed (I was on hold for a few minutes while reporting that). I’ve heard gunfire more times this year than I can remember. And we’ve had people repeatedly trying to torch a building directly adjacent to homes and trees for months. If you really want a fascist state, keep telling people they don’t need to worry about any of that stuff and all cops are bad.

Karl
Guest
Karl

Yes, give traffic enforcement to PBOT!

chris m
Guest
chris m

This is late so maybe nobody will see this but this has been knocking around in my head since I saw this article. I really think people who want to see lasting police reform should think hard about the long term impacts of ramming through a budget cut 3 days before an election where one of the chief proponents of the cut (Eudaly) is a considerable underdog.

If we think of the Union/PPB Management/Council like it’s a company, things sort of fall into focus. The union is obviously labor, management is the executives/corporate management, and the council is the board.

Each player has certain strengths and weaknesses, and while technically the council is “on top” council also has serious weaknesses that mean it cannot achieve longterm changes to PPB just by fiat. First, council does not have day-to-day expertise in running the department. An attempt to impose budget cuts without buy-in from management is likely to be bungled.

Second, even if management and council agree, the union will be around fighting for the same interests long after current management and the current council is gone. So it is absolutely crucial that reforms not be specific to a particular arrangement on city council. The union is extremely politically savvy and farsighted, I imagine they are happy to wait out short term budget cuts if they believe the makeup of the council will change soon.

Currently we have very broad support for police reform measures. That said, I think if you are going to reform something and cut the budget, you don’t do it with a CEO (police chief) who is opposed to the direction of the board. You have to fire management first, and bring in management that is aligned to the board’s vision.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Wow – it’s amateur hour again in Portland, where non-experts get to override the experts in an area (law enforcement) that requires a lifetime of expertise. I’m not saying that Joann is wrong about her experience: clearly her recommendations are colored by her life’s experience. But these recommendations should frame overall strategy, not get into the weeds where budget cuts dictate specific changes like which FTE are assigned to which areas. This situation again shows why it’s critical that Portland pass the charter revision and take day-to-day operational control away from ELECTED representatives.

Brighton West
Guest

Let’s put PBOT in charge of traffic safety including enforcement. They have no reason to profile or try to find “other crimes.” Put more tools in their toolbox and evaluate their success.

DUI would be one of a few traffic crimes needing a police officer.