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Portland Police Association says tragic traffic toll with continue “without proactive enforcement”

The president of the labor union that represents most of the Portland Police Bureau’s rank-and-file officers made a statement earlier this month warning people that a recent personnel shift by Police Chief Chuck Lovell would lead to dangerous conditions on our streets. I just realized today that that person – PPA President Brian Hunzeker — used an opinion piece he read on BikePortland to support his case.

In a Facebook post on February 9th, Hunzeker wrote:

“Five days ago, the Traffic Division—charged with the specific duties of traffic enforcement, serious injury collision investigation, fatal collision investigations, DUII enforcement, traffic complaints, and major traffic crime investigations—was reassigned to precinct patrol leaving a dramatic gap in proactive traffic enforcement. Having served 14 years in the Traffic Division team, I knew this move would negatively affect safety on our roadways and we’ve already seen 4 fatal crashes in just the past 5 days. It’s just common sense that a city our size needs an active and dedicated traffic enforcement unit.

We have traffic laws and issue citations to improve unsafe driving and to provide education to bad drivers—to make the roads safer for everyone and prevent injury and death. Without proactive enforcement and driver accountability, I fear we will see an increase in vehicle, bike, and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. I hope I’m wrong.”

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Hunzeker then shared the link, a quote and photos from my opinion piece about a rise in traffic violence that was published one day prior.

Hunzeker’s statement is based on a move back in December by Chief Lovell to re-assign officers away from the Traffic Division (a specialty unit that writes the vast majority of Portland traffic tickets) to more general patrol positions.

In my interview with PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty on Friday, she called Hunzeker’s position a “very destructive narrative”. “I want to be clear that any police officer has the ability to write a ticket for traffic infractions,” Hardesty said. “They are all qualified to hold people accountable for illegally using our streets.”

The PPA’s position is a continuation of a narrative they established with the PPB back in October when they opposed attempts by Hardesty to reduce the police budget by $18 million and warned, “The elimination of the Traffic Division, resulting in the lost enforcement of traffic laws, deterrence of bad driving that can have deadly consequences.”

Portland lawyer Mark Ginsberg with Berkshire Ginsberg LLC* said, “That narrative is bunk.”

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Ginsberg believes the dissolution of the Traffic Division was a bad idea. “It’s kind of a worst-case scenario for all the officers. Officers who want to do traffic are being told they have to do other duties, plus traffic. And officers who don’t want to do traffic are now being told, they have to do traffic plus their regular duties.”

(Source: City of Portland budget documents/Kat McKelvey)

“I think it will have negative outcomes in that we’ll see less active enforcement and we’re going to see a lot of officers moved off of their motorcycles,” Ginsberg added. Motorcycles are often used by Traffic Division officers, many of whom have had to park them and hop into SUVs and other patrol vehicles with their new assignments. This impacts traffic-related enforcement because motorcycles are much more maneuverable in congested areas and they give officers a much clearer view of driver behavior — which is especially important for infractions like distracted driving where an officer must be able to see what someone is doing with their hands in order to ensure the ticket isn’t dismissed in court.

Ginsberg says the issue of officer morale and personnel shortages at PPB in general are not a good thing; but he’s quick to point out that the situation is of the PPB’s own making.

“The Portland Police Bureau, up until recently was getting $10 million more per year [in budget increases] for the last five years. Portland takes an entire year to hire officers, where other places take months… There’s no question there’s a shortage of officers, but the shortage is very much PPB and PPA’s responsibility.”

(*Berkshire Ginsberg is a financial supporter of BikePortland.)

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