“Any missions related to traffic issues will have to be done at the precinct level, if the call load and personnel allow for it.”
— Officer Derek Carmon, PPB
In a move the Portland Police Bureau says it must take to manage budget and staffing woes, Chief Chuck Lovell announced a reorganization plan on Friday that will result in zero officers dedicated to traffic law enforcement.
Chief Lovell said a major shift of officers from several speciality units is necessary in order to boost response times of precinct-based patrols. The PPB had been hiring officers on overtime to fill patrol positions, but with a budget deficit of $2 million, Lovell says that’s no longer prudent. Due to budgeting choices, retirements, and recruiting challenges, the PPB currently has 290 patrol officers to cover the city’s three precincts.
By early February of 2021 Chief Lovell’s plan will boost the number of patrol officers to 365. That number includes 20 officers from the Traffic Division, essentially wiping out the entire unit.
I followed up with PPB Public Information Officer Derek Carmon to clarify what this means for enforcement of traffic laws on Portland streets.
Ofcr Carmon confirmed that all Traffic Division officers are going back to routine patrols. “They can still work traffic enforcement as time allows but they won’t be focused on it anymore,” he said. The only piece of the Traffic Division that will remain are five investigators and reconstructionists on the Major Crash Team that’s called out to all serious and fatal crashes.
The Traffic Division has a team to investigate hit-and-runs, do school zone and speeding enforcement missions, and so on. Once Chief Lovell’s reorganization is in place, the PPB will no longer have personnel dedicated to these issues. “Any missions related to traffic issues will have to be done at the precinct level,” Ofcr Carmon shared in an email with me this week. “If the call load and personnel allow for it.”
Traffic Division officers typically issue about 90% of all traffic citations citywide. According to the PPB’s latest annual report, in 2019 the Traffic Division responded to 14,293 calls including 906 crashes and 6,961 hit-and-runs (6,606 of which led only to property damage). The unit issued 31,527 traffic citations and conducted 35 “Vision Zero missions”.
Ofcr Carmon said there’s no plan to reinstate Traffic Division positions and that it’s “entirely based on budgeting.”
This move comes about five weeks after Chief Lovell and the president of the Portland Police Association (an officer’s union) used the elimination of the Traffic Division as a negotiation tactic in response to a proposal from City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty to cut $18 million from the police budget. Hardesty is a critic of police traffic enforcement because she feels it is too often biased against Black people. Those cuts failed to pass due to a lack of support on City Council.
In October, Chief Lovell said, “I believe these cuts [to Traffic Division] will be detrimental to the safety of our community members and visitors to the City of Portland and dramatically impact the livability of our neighborhoods.”
Commissioners Hardesty and her supporter on council Commissioner Chloe Eudaly have both expressed interest in reducing the role of police in traffic enforcement; but neither have made significant progress on the issue.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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