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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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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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Sheriffs are one step further removed from local political control.

Kurt
Guest
Kurt

You mean the publicly elected sheriff? Please do go on.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Yes — the one that answers to the whole county, not the officials who answer only to Portland voters.

Kurt
Guest
Kurt

So the person directly elected is further from control than the guy picked by the guy who was elected?
BTW:
Portland population: 653,115
Multnomah County: 812,855

But sure if you say so.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

If that’s your metric, you probably need to look at how many layers separate the elected official from the cop on the street. I’m guessing that’s not an insignificant number. In order to get the right number for the county, you’d have to look at what it would be if they had a force the size of Portland’s (consisting, most likely, of the same folks we have in the PPB now).

Maybe a 25% dilution of accountability isn’t much, but if those 25% all think Portland is full of anarchists, meth smokers, and degenerate criminals, and if the sheriff panders to them and to the minority of Portlanders who think the same thing, that could easily tip the balance further from the type of policing we want while guaranteeing a smooth reelection for the sheriff.

Pete S.
Guest
Pete S.

Lol imagine PPB officers being in any way accountable to Portland voters.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

They’re not supposed to be; they’re supposed to be accountable to the PPB which is accountable to the mayor, who is accountable to voters.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Wasn’t trump publicly elected? How’s that working out?

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Depends on whom you ask…

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

You need quick response and ‘preservation of evidence’. First of all, there are very few private companies up to the job, they cannot be on the scene within minutes like LE, and they would have no interest in working outside the metro areas. So, that part of your suggestion is a non-starter. Second, the State Patrol is not even patrolling State highways, and I don’t think Sheriffs have legal autority within City limits and are understaffed as well. So, both are non-starters btw I am a former private investigator, incuding doing accident reconstruction. Believe me, when I showed up even within a few hours, most evidence is either gone or mucked up (skid marks, debris, etc etc).

Fred
Guest
Fred

Clearly we need qualified law-enforcement agencies to do this important work. The fact that we’re even having this conversation just shows how loony everything has gotten – how the “defund the police” rhetoric has taken us all down a rabbit hole into some alternative reality.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

Right now, private companies are tasked with emergency medical response — a case where rapid response is even more important than crash analysis. And those private companies respond rapidly and provide a high quality service. There may be few private companies today that do crash reconstruction, but once the demand is created, I’m sure supply would begin to appear.

There’s been some discussion about turning responsibility for City of Portland over to the county sheriff already, so far from a non-starter, that’s a very real possibility.

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.

Zach Reyes
Subscriber
Zach Reyes

I couldn’t agree more. It’s time to commit to automated traffic enforcement and enact whatever changes we need to make to Oregon law to make that happen. Take out the human from the equation; if the vehicle is speeding give the owner a ticket. All the arguments about Big Brother watching where you are going is void in the era of smart phones and built-in car GPS anyways.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

I couldn’t disagree more. There is no reason to forcibly tie a mandated government program to what someone may do with their phone or GPS. In one case, the government receives the information. In the other, it’s a private business. In one case, I have no control of that information. In the other, I do. In one case, I can make choices relevant to my privacy preferences. In the other, I cannot. The two scenarios are more different than they are similar, and it’s dangerous and unreasonable to treat them the same, or to use one as an excuse for another. Even if phones are equivalent in your mind to government location monitoring, one atrocious personal invasion does not justify another.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

North Carolina has been “experimenting” with a similar point-to-point scheme on I-40, with several tickets already given out.

In Germany, the fines are proportionate to one’s reported income.

drs
Guest
drs

I think widespread deployment of traffic cameras would be a wonderful idea. I’d like to see them employed on all classifications of streets, including interstate highways, arterials, collectors and local service streets. Ideally, a substantial number of them would be mobile and would be moved to random locations on a regular basis (because both google and apple maps now point out the location of speed cameras that have fixed positions).

That being said, these cameras only work if vehicles are registered and have identifiable license plates. A substantial and rapidly growing number of vehicles on Portland streets do not have plates or have dubious looking paper temporary plates in their windows that are often illegible. While there are plenty of vehicles with identifiable registration that drive in unsafe manners, the unregistered vehicles have (in my anecdotal opinion) a much higher propensity to ignore traffic control devices and to make illegal and erratic movements on the street). If we aren’t going to enforce registration requirements, all the traffic cameras in the world would be absolutely useless.

drs
Guest
drs

Speed cameras are great. I wish we had lots of them. But too many cars are driving around Portland lacking license plates or with fake temporary plates. If no one is going to enforce requirements for vehicle registration, cameras will do absolutely nothing to solve the problem.

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?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I’ve lived here for over 30 years, and I’ve seen someone pulled over for dangerous driving once. That was a long time ago.

igor
Guest
igor

I’ve been pulled over for slowing down, not stopping at a stop sign on my bike. Does that count?

Jeff Smith
Guest
Jeff Smith

Not anymore….

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

And the data show that when PPB does make the rare traffic stop, it’s often racially profiled.

Actually, the data do not show this, at least not for the traffic division which is not in the business of making pretext stops where a traffic infraction is just an excuse to stop someone “suspicious” looking.

Statistics from the traffic bureau show that they issue tickets in numbers that closely mirror those getting injured or killed in traffic crashes, which is probably as good a proxy as any for unsafe driving.

Nathan Hinkle
Guest
Nathan Hinkle

Apologies for conflating PPB’s overall traffic stop profiling with the Traffic Division’s specific numbers. However that’s not really the main point of my comment, and everyone nitpicking that one line is distracting from what I’m getting at here. Whether you argue that we should maintain the traffic division for traffic enforcement or not, moving traffic control and collision investigation to the transportation bureau makes sense.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Sorry, I don’t think it’s nitpicky in this context. Everyone’s talking about “let PBOT do traffic enforcement”, and this article is all about PPB’s eliminating traffic enforcement duties in response to budget cuts driven by claims of abusive policing, so I think it’s critical that everyone be clear that the data do not suggest a problem with PPB’s traffic enforcement (and can perhaps sit with the irony of that being the thing that gets eliminated).

The fact that the discussion focuses primarily on police duties that are not problematic (traffic enforcement, report taking, crash investigation, etc.) is why I think this conversation is ideological and not fact driven. Everyone seems to want to avoid the hard conversation about why certain types of incidents tend to go off the rails by distracting ourselves fixing things that aren’t broken, creating the illusion of progress.

Nathan Hinkle
Guest
Nathan Hinkle

Crash investigation and report taking is problematic though. How many times have we seen press releases from PPB that essentially say, “a truck was moving along when a pedestrian suddenly became positioned in front of it and died. The driver was released with no charges.”

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Understood. That is a separate problem than the question of whether the crash investigators are armed, how punitive cuts to the police budget should be, or the whole social justice milieu of the conversation in which it is most frequently brought up.

Crash investigation can be (and probably should be) discussed in an independent context, because it really is a fundamentally different problem. The merits of the change you are proposing can stand or fall on their own.

I would absolutely support setting aside some budget for PBOT to send folks out to crash sites to do their own investigation alongside the police and then study of how the findings of these different investigations overlap or differ. (The police are not gathering info about road safety, and PBOT would not likely be gathering evidence for possible prosecution.) That study could inform a larger proposal for changing how these investigations are conducted, and, perhaps, who does them, and would help PBOT get a handle on how many personnel they’d need to do this on an ongoing basis. That in turn would drive budgeting questions where we can make the real decisions based on cost of implementation vs. value of improvement, and, maybe if we’re lucky, allowing us to recoup some portion of the costs by reducing the police budget by a small amount.

There… the outline of a relatively straightforward data-oriented proposal for how to get started in a way that is apolitical, practical, and result-focused.

It’s this sort of proposal I expect from our leaders, not the sort of petty anti-police bickering we’ve seen recently.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

“it’s often racially profiled”.

How often?

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

…and ODOT runs a similar program on freeways…

I’m still not sure under what authority ODOT does this. As far as I can tell, it’s illegal and they just don’t care.

Nathan Hinkle
Guest
Nathan Hinkle

How do you suppose that it’s illegal for ODOT to run a traffic incident response program on their freeways?

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

Do you agree that it would be illegal for you, a private citizen, to stop traffic on a public road, make demands of people attempting to pass, or to redirect traffic to a different street? Do you agree that it’s illegal for you to put lights and sirens on your personal vehicle and drive around with them on? It’s that simple: emergency response, traffic control, and running code 3 is illegal unless you’re one of the bodies authorized to do those things under statute, and ODOT is not (unless I’ve missed something somewhere).

Nathan Hinkle
Guest
Nathan Hinkle

You’ve missed something. A private citizen cannot generally direct traffic, although they certainly can if they are a certified flagger operating under an approved traffic control plan. ODOT is a public agency and has broad authority to regulate traffic in the state and establish traffic control zones, including through the use of flaggers and for emergency response. You can read all about it in Chapter 6 of the Oregon Temporary Traffic Control Handbook. The Director of Transportation (i.e. the ODOT director) is authorized by ORS 801.260 to designate emergency vehicles, and can apply this designation to ODOT vehicles or other state/local agencies.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

You’re right… that’s what I was missing. I hadn’t read the additional authorities/exemptions in 820.

(This is news to nobody, but ORS are poorly organized. Putting a bunch of requirements in one title, then a bunch of exceptions in a completely different title with no cross-references makes it hard to get a complete picture.)

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/

El oso
Guest
El oso

Actually getting people off the streets and info homes is a proven tactic to increase safety

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

I want someone to arrive in a timely fashion when I call 911 after I’m attacked riding my bike on the Springwater trail. Violent crime is way up in Portland. 911 response times are much slower. Cutting the police budget and using the funds to pay for lawyers to fight evictions and food handouts do not help with these pressing public safety issues.

OGBrian
Guest
OGBrian

I want someone to arrive in a timely fashion when I call 911 after I’m attacked riding my bike on the Springwater trail.

You’re so close to getting it. A person camping on the Springwater may be there because they were evicted, and when there is food insecurity tempers run high. There have been many examples of housing/food/etc. assistance demonstrating more bang-for-the-buck in reducing crime than funding police. The police are actually terrible at crime reduction, there have been instances of crime remaining stable or even going down during a police slowdown or strike.

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

Good balanced article on police reform in Portland. Worth the read. Emphasizes the point that police reform without involving the police is doomed to failure.
https://www.thetrace.org/2020/09/portland-police-racism-gun-violence-shootings-data-hardesty/

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

Another interesting read. Offers an alternative perspective. One you don’t hear much living in what is often “Groupthink Portland”.

THE CASE FOR HIRING MORE POLICE OFFICERS.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/2/13/18193661/hire-police-officers-crime-criminal-justice-reform-booker-harris

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

Good articles; thanks!

In a department willing to take articles like the Vox one to heart, there might be hope for reforms — and increased funding — to work. But more police without more harassment is just not possible in police departments where the us-vs-them tribalism has become so entrenched, the shield of the police union so impenetrable, that it can’t be trained out anymore. That’s why the call has become to abandon the irreparable status quo and start over with something new, responsive, and capable of adopting reforms. As TheTrace article alludes, more police presence has a high collateral cost, but more non-police presence can probably achieve the same effect without the collateral cost — another reason to reallocate funding rather than doubling down. Reallocating funding also puts it into the hands of management who’s striving to reach the same vision instead of management who have dedicating themselves to fighting against that vision.

dan
Guest
dan

To be clear, even before budget cuts, the police would not show up because you were attacked — I know this from personal experience. They don’t write traffic tickets, recover stolen vehicles, arrest burglars, or really do anything we want them to do. The only thing we can depend on them for is protecting Vancouver Proud Boys on their field trips to Portland and assaulting peaceful protesters.

Why should we shovel money at an agency that does nothing for us? Maybe it’s time for them to lose their cushy government jobs and guaranteed pension and find out what it’s like out there in the private sector.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Does anyone actually want people living on the streets?

JBone
Guest
JBone

Private individuals and groups can provide legal assistance, food assistance, housing assistance and many other services to those in need, but they can’t (legally) do traffic and other law enforcement.

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!

drs
Guest
drs

I sympathize with your frustration over the lack of enforcement and people driving dangerously with impunity. But I think you will be sorely disappointed if you expect to find significantly more law abiding drivers anywhere else in the United States. It is a nationwide epidemic.

Zach
Guest
Zach

Yeah, I’ve lived all over, and Portland easily has the most respectful drivers of any major US city, and even many international ones.

drs
Guest
drs

I find that the drivers get worse during the commute and the closer you get to the outskirts of the city. But the drivers in most parts of the city are relatively polite.

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.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

But I like to bike faster than 20mph sometimes.

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.

drs
Guest
drs

It might have a lot to do with the fact that a large portion of the job that police officers are asked to do has nothing to do with law enforcement. The shooting in Philadelphia earlier this week is a perfect case in point. Police officers were dispatched to a situation in which mental health services had been requested. I don’t know what the numbers are, but it seems like a lot of what Portland cops are expected to do is of a similar nature.

Bicycling Al
Guest
Bicycling Al

Police departments are large organizations which hire everyone from administrators and janitors to mechanics and actual police officers. What are the barriers to creating special units to deal with these special circumstances? Not every employee carries a gun. It seems to me that it’s pressure from police unions to hire as many beat cops as possible and that’s what they do to the detriment of the community they are supposed to serve. Ironically enough, this mentality doesn’t even serve the cops themselves as it results in stress to perform in a wide range of situations and get it right 100% of the time while thinking that everyone is out to kill them.

It’s as if hospitals hired as many neurosurgeons as possible, at the expense of nurses, orderlies, admins and so on because the neurosurgeon union was at the wheel. It’s great if you are in for neurosurgery but…. and also the employment cost overruns.

Steve C
Guest
Steve C

Is the Traffic Division a “popular program”? Personally, as a cyclist, I would love to see motorists drive safer. Does the current traffic policing system do that? As we can see from some of the above comments, many people don’t really think we’re getting much currently in terms of effective enforcement anyway. And I think I’m safe in saying that the majority of drivers don’t like traffic cops. Announcing that the whole division will be cut may give people pause, just as any cut to current services would force people to imagine what actual benefits will be lost.

I agree that the first instinct of an entrenched system within any organization, public or private, when it is faced with budget cuts is to threaten maximum perceived impact. Threatening to go on strike, not responding to requests for service, defunding popular programs, etc. But really I’m not sure the Traffic Division is that beloved core service. So many people break traffic laws that the common response to seeing a fellow motorist pulled over is “there but for the grace of god go I” as opposed to, “I’m glad they pulled that menace over”. Unless of course, you directly see the person threaten you or someone else, then cue the “instant karma” dashcam reddit genre.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

One reason could be that unions negotiate annual salary increases and pension obligations also increase as a result.

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo
Bicycling Al
Guest
Bicycling Al

From the article, “Criminologist Randy Blazak said the uptick isn’t a surprise, given the steady decline in crime rates nationwide since the early 1990s.”

In other words, a ONE year 100% increase of a small number is still a small number.

If we were reducing police budgets accordingly for the last 30 years, then I would be fully on board increasing them in response to statistics although probably smoothing out over some 3-5 year period would be best.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

If we suddenly see a 100% increase (especially when there are already reasons to predict an increase might occur), I’m not sure I want to wait 3-5 years to see if the long term averages are up before I start thinking about how to respond.

OGBrian
Guest
OGBrian

Not mentioned yet is that crime would predictably increase during an extended pandemic shutdown when a substantial fraction of the population is prevented from working at their jobs but still has living expenses to cover. Note that the spike the article sites is during June/July, at least a few months after many people would have been prevented from working.

Hello, Kitty
Guest
Hello, Kitty

That might account for a surge in robberies or burglaries, but it’s a less satisfactory explanation for the rise in shootings. Regardless of cause, when crime is rising, reducing policing is an unconventional response.

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.

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

I disagree. Laying off half the officers as you suggest without a replacement plan is a recipe for disaster. If I am attacked or harassed by some yahoo when riding my bike and call 911 I want a quick response from the police. 911 response times are slow in Portland and have gotten significantly worse this year.

OGBrian
Guest
OGBrian

What do you expect to happen when you are attacked and you call 911? Police will materialize instantly and address the situation, before the attacker leaves the scene?

I have had to wait two hours for a police response about a hit-and-run driver. The driver remained on the scene at first (after I caught up with her a mile later at a stop light) but left before police arrived. For another hit-and-run incident in which my bike trailer was smashed by an apparently intoxicated driver who had backed up at an intersection, it is a double-whammy against your argument for more police. An officer did show up and made a report, but didn’t bother to investigate the incident (at least to the point of going to the registered address of the vehicle) when the license plate number was known and there were two witnesses besides myself. I was biking with the trailer and camping stuff to a wooded area, since I had been at the time living out of a storage rental when I did not find housing sufficiently free of mold/perfume (I can’t tolerate either). This plan was thwarted by the trailer having been smashed, so I lugged my stuff to a nearby school yard to sleep in an out-of-the-way area where the same officer who had taken the incident report forced me to leave after I’d already gone to sleep.

Reports about such things are ubiquitous in BP and other discussion areas. People here are not arguing that there should be no police, they’re arguing that they should enforce laws rather than investing huge sums in harassing peaceful protesters or profiling people based on race.

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

Well, encephalopath was arguing to fire half the police force. That will lead to chaos. I am not opposed to police reform. In fact, I feel it is overdue. I just feel that we need to have a well thought out plan in place before moving forward. Firing 50% of the officers and handing out free hot dogs will not improve our city’s public safety.

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?

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

I respectfully disagree. I don’t think they are trying to hold the public hostage. They are simply prioritizing funding cuts, Their budget has already been cut and if it is cut more, they will need to prioritize responding to 911 calls and investigating violent crimes, Non-violent prevention programs such as the Traffic Division will be eliminated. Funding to the helpful Bike Theft Task Force has already been suspended. You are right there seems to be little traffic enforcement currently, but I don’t want to see even less!

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

I don’t think most people find it credible that PPB has $230M worth of stuff that’s all legitimately higher priority than traffic enforcement. Somewhere around $15M of that goes to PERS, but do 911 calls and violent crime investigations require $215M so that there’s nothing left over? That’s why it sounds like holding hostage the highly-visible programs for the sake of a political buffer against budget cuts.

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.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Audits are only useful if an organization wants to fix itself and is willing to trust in outside advice. I have no doubt that a majority of City Council wants to fix the police bureau – but I do doubt that any of the five would be willing to listen to the outside advice of an external auditor (or even the advice of the 6th elected official, the City Auditor) – they all seem to have their personal opinions of what is wrong and right, they “know” everything (and learn nothing.) And of course the organization itself, the police bureau, thinks that everything is fine, all they lack is adequate resources.

Bike Guy
Guest
Bike Guy

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

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

Left 5 years ago, moved to a cheap city with plenty of well-paid police who have all the same problems as Portland except lack of funding – too much crime and too many murders (particularly if you happen to be born black), 80% of the department is white and lives outside the city, the riot unit has armored vehicles, the yellow bike police are there for crowd control, no accountability, a very conservative Democratic city council (1 BM, 3 BF, 5 WF) most of whom are in the pockets of realtors, and drivers who typically drive 25 mph over the speed limit. Welcome to the rest of the country.

qqqqqq
Guest
qqqqqq

Nope.

Bicycling Al
Guest
Bicycling Al

Move where exactly?

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

I hear Antarctica doesn’t have any problems with out-of-control police. It’s a bit cold today, but I hear that should quickly improve over the coming years.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

I meant this to be a tongue-in-cheek tone with a smiley-face. Reading it a day later, it sounds a lot snippier than I meant it to; sorry.

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.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

In most US cities, the fire department and police department personnel should grow at the same rate as the population growth (and shrink accordingly). Portland’s population has effectively doubled since 1980 and area expanded 50%, but while the Fire Bureau has expanded (usually by taking over county fire stations during annexation), the police bureau has not grown very much at all. Portland and Detroit are now about the same size cities, yet Portland’s 900 sworn officers are nothing compared to Detroit’s 2,400, in spite of Detroit’s much higher level of poverty.

Fire departments are usually the last to be cut, as they have a big influence on insurance terms and credit ratings for cities.

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

Yes, Portland already has a very low number of officers per person as compared to other cities.

https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2015/05/portland_has_fewer_police_offi.html

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

I’m fine moving to a different model of public safety. I just want it in place before dismantling the current system.

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.

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

I generally agree with you and think you make excellent points telling those that advocating for change with extremism (such as ACAB, firing half the officers, etc) limits their ability to make meaningful change.

The once exception to your comment I would take is that I do not feel the police are threatening to cut the Traffic Division as a way to advocate for their continued support because it is a “useful/popular” program. If severe budget cuts are made they will need to prioritize their spending. The priority will be violent crime response/prevention and immediate threats to human life.
Since traffic enforcement and accident investigation does not fall into this category it will be on the chopping block. Much like the suspension of support for the Bike Theft Task force which has already occurred.

Karl
Guest
Karl

Yes, give traffic enforcement to PBOT!

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

Could be worthwhile to explore that option. Of course not if Chloe Eudaly is still in charge. She is opposed to any form of enforcement.

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

That is something worth considering. May be difficult given that at least one of the commissioners (Hardesty) has been against traffic enforcement. She feels pedestrians should be more careful. Hmm??

https://www.wweek.com/news/city/2019/07/11/city-commissioner-jo-ann-hardesty-fears-vision-zero-traffic-stops-will-be-weaponized-against-people-of-color/

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.

Steve C
Guest
Steve C

“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.”

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

Can you tell me more about the charter revision. I’m not familiar with this. Is this an opportunity to get rid of the “weak mayor” system of government and move to a city manager system?

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.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

If you really think this is a good idea, I’d suggest watching some YouTube videos of traffic stops. When everyone cooperates, it might work. But it’s instructive to see how things spin out of control when drivers resist. I would not want to be the PBOT employee getting screamed at by an irate driver who refuses to provide their identification, or dealing with a driver who takes off in the middle of the stop, or dealing with the driver who refuses to follow even the most basic of instructions. And I’m not even talking about the situations where a weapon comes out.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

You make a good point, but some of the worst incidents are _because_ police are involved; they wouldn’t happen if there was no risk of arrest. There’s no (okay, little) incentive to murder a ticket-writer if they aren’t going to run a warrant check that leads to long incarceration. There’s a lot less fear from the driver if they aren’t possibly going to get murdered by the ticket-writer stopping them. A driver who fails to obey, and maybe flees the traffic stop was witnessed, recorded on camera, and faces the consequences (warrant, fine, whatever) later. Or if exigent, a radio call to the police-with-guns to chase them down.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I’m not talking about murder; I’m talking about driving away, refusing to provide identification, refusing to follow even basic requests. It is clear in the videos I’ve seen that no one is concerned about being shot by the cops; you would not scream profanities at a potential armed murder, or let your son run around the car and try to punch him.

Maybe things would go better with a PBOT flunky doing the pulling over, but even if some incidents go better, some won’t.

And if the person you pull over for speeding appears drunk or high or has no license or insurance or is driving a stolen car or (as I saw in one video) is punching their girlfriend, or even refuses to provide identification, are you just going to issue a ticket and let them on their way?

After seeing how things play out in real life, it is really hard to take this idea seriously. And, I’ll add, a lot of people’s behavior is really disgraceful.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

I chose the most extreme example with murder. Someone who gets stopped and merely refuses to provide identification is not a sufficiently dangerous/urgent situation to justify lethal force, or maybe any force at all. That means the ticket-writer in that situation doesn’t need a commission; they need a camera and the ability to testify as to the suspect’s identity later if/when the charge is contested in court.

Some situations — drunk drivers are one example — do justify force, and even lethal force in some cases. That’s when you need police with guns — and the less non-violent domestic incidents, missing taillights, and mental health situations they have to respond to, the quicker they’ll be able to respond when called for situations that do require violence.

The way this appears to work in England and parts of Europe is the police force is “split”; some officers have guns and most don’t. The gun-toting officers can be called upon if needed, and the other officers handle most things. I imagine a similar split could be the future here. Police essentially remain the gun-toting response force, and the things that are currently done by unarmed officers in other countries get handed off to other agencies, who always have the armed backup a radio-call away if it becomes necessary.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

So why bother stop for one of these PBOT “officers” at all? Worst case, they take a picture of the back of my car and radio it in. Later that day, or the next, or a month later, I get pulled over by the “real” police, and just deny everything. What then? There’s no evidence against me, just a photo of my car, but no idea who was driving.

Comparisons with Europe are difficult because we have waaaaay more weapons circulating than even the most heavily armed European country, and a disturbing propensity to use them.

I’m all for building a corps of unarmed officers (probably not controlled by PBOT) to take care of some of current police business, but traffic stops seem like a very unlikely candidate. When that unarmed corps demonstrates its efficacy, we’ll be well positioned to dial back the armed police. But I suspect that the first murder of an unarmed officer will derail the whole project.

MaddHatter
Guest
MaddHatter

That’s not really any different than today. You can refuse to stop for police. Maybe they’ll chase you down; maybe they won’t. They make that call based on a balance of factors, primarily risk to the public. My understanding is that today there won’t be a chase unless it’s a felony apprehension. Whether the red-and-blue lights are OSP/sheriff or some other agency, and whether they have a gun or not doesn’t really affect that scenario at all.