Portland Police will de-emphasize minor traffic violations in move toward racial justice

Posted by on June 22nd, 2021 at 1:31 pm

Mayor Wheeler and Chief Lovell at today’s press conference.

“It’s not a directive change. Officers will still have the ability to do a lower-level stop if they need to… we’re just re-emphasizing our focus to the moving violations that are more safety related.”
— Chuck Lovell, Portland police chief

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell addressed media in an online press conference today to explain a new approach to traffic enforcement.

“Officers will soon be working under new directions to focus their enforcement on moving violations that represent an immediate danger to public safety,” Wheeler explained. “This will enable the Police Bureau to focus its traffic enforcement efforts on safety related issues, which must be our priority.”

PBOT Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty approves. “Thank you Mayor Wheeler and Chief Lovell for this significant change that will advance the cause of racial justice in policing,” she shared in a statement today. “This allows police to focus on traffic violations that pose an immediate safety threat and other higher priority crime mitigation efforts, such as solving crimes related to the increase in gun violence.”

The move comes as part of ongoing police reforms that have been demanded by many in the community since racial justice protests began in May 2020. According to 2019 Portland Police Bureau data that was released last fall, white Portlanders — who make up 75% of the total population — were subject to just 65% of PPB traffic stops. During the same period, Black Portlanders — who make up just 6% of the population — made up 18% of stops.

Mayor Wheeler and Chief Lovell made it clear that police still have the ability to stop anyone they’d like, but they must focus on vehicle and road user behaviors that pose imminent threats and/or provide adequate probable cause for a larger, more serious crime. The goal is to not only reduce the likelihood of Black and people of color being treated unfairly by officers, but also to apply PPB resources to more pressing needs. Chief Lovell said he wants officers to, “Focus on safety violations and enforcement in high crash corridors. We need to focus on behaviors that result in serious or fatal crashes, such as speeding, DUI, distracted driving, failure to obey traffic control devices and things of that nature.”

“Non-moving violations and lower-level infractions [can still lead to a traffic stop],” Lovell continued. “But with an emphasis on safety and [they must] have an actionable investigative factor to them.” (A bill in the Oregon legislature (HB 2002) would have made similar traffic enforcement reforms statewide, but it did not pass.)

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Lovell repeatedly stated that the new stance is merely a set of instructions for officers and not a formal, procedural directive. “Officers will still have the ability to do a lower-level stop if they need to. It’s not a directive change. It doesn’t take away that ability, we’re just re-emphasizing our focus to the moving violations that are more safety related.”

“Their justification for [the new policy] makes sense it just scares me a bit.”

But Lovell might be making a distinction without a difference. The takeaway from today’s news for most people will likely be that the PPB no longer cares about certain offenses like missing plates, broken headlights and taillights, expired tags, rolling stop signs, and so on.

When KPTV (Portland Fox affiliate) Pete Ferryman tweeted today that, “Portland Police⁩ will no longer pursue minor traffic infractions unless there is an immediate safety threat,” the reactions were unsurprising. “So speed limits are officially passé? Noted,” said one person.

For vulnerable road users like bicycle riders, any increase in lawlessness — whether “low-level” or not — can lead to more stressful and dangerous streets. Road safety is about culture and social mores as much as it is about infrastructure and enforcement.

Upon hearing today’s news, a friend texted to say, “Their justification for [the new policy] makes sense it just scares me a bit.”

Police enforcement, racial bias, and how they intersect with traffic safety have been a challenge for the PPB long before the George Floyd protests. In July 2020, the City of Portland transportation bureau formally stepped back from working with the PPB on a crosswalk enforcement program.

Chief Lovell and Mayor Wheeler will need to monitor how this new approach plays out. Past leaders of the PPB Traffic Division have raised concerns that too much focus of enforcement resources on designated “high crash corridors” (sections of streets with above average rates of deaths and injuries) can also reflect a bias since stats show that areas with lower incomes and a higher proportion of Black and people of color have higher crash rates.

Mayor Wheeler is under pressure to deliver on police reforms as an effort to recall him prepares to begin collecting signatures July 1st. At today’s press conference Wheeler said he values a police bureau that is, “able to evolve with the changing needs and dynamics of the community.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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bjornMatt S.El BicicleroBike GrrrlClem Fandango Recent comment authors
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Chris I
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Chris I

Anecdotally, I have literally never seen Portland Police cite anyone (except for cyclists at the Ladd’s circle) for minor traffic infractions. I don’t see how this supposed policy change actually changes anything.

joan
Subscriber

If you’re white, that’s exactly the point — these stops are disproportionately aimed at our Black neighbors, and these stops are often used as a pretext to hassle Black Portlanders.

Steve C
Guest
Steve C

And isn’t that still the case with this guidance? It still gives officers the discretion to stop, even more so now, and will almost certainly result disproportionate pretextual stops. “Officers will still have the ability to do a lower-level stop if they need to. It’s not a directive change. It doesn’t take away that ability, we’re just re-emphasizing our focus to the moving violations that are more safety related.”

If you don’t clearly delineate the responsibilities and duties of both drivers and police officers, you will have more racial bias as laws will be enforced selectively, either concisely or unconsciously.

I’d like to see unarmed traffic and vehicle safety enforcement. Hold all drivers to account in a clear and rational way, but without the terror of an armed cop.

And I agree with Chris I, traffic enforcement in general is very lax in Portland. But I think that creates even more perverse outcomes when paired with a discretionary guidance on police stops. Most drivers are not expecting to be held accountable for their unsafe driving, and when it does happen, it’s going to feel targeted or unfair. And we know from so many recent studies into bias in traffic policing, that it may very well be the case.

Watts
Guest
Watts

I wish they would target the crazy-assed drivers in my neighborhood…

Jason
Guest
Jason

Then maybe, instead of de-emphasizing law enforcement, they should just not be racist? ¯\(ツ)/¯

hamiramani
Subscriber

I agree. I don’t think this is going to make a difference. I see plenty of folks driving with banged up headlights and no license plates. Most drivers don’t stop at stop signs or obey basic traffic laws anyway.

Luke S
Guest
Luke S

So we should make it worse by stopping the police from enforcing basic traffic and vehicle registration laws before coming up with a viable alternative?

JeffP
Guest
JeffP

I believe CoP/PPB is probably trying to get out in front of HB2002 being considered in the state legislature right now.
It has very similar provisions; it also appears to be specific about pulling people over for these primary reasons but allows a ticket to be mailed…..[presumably to provide the ‘we’re still enforcing laws aspect that citizens continue to ask for].

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

Or in the 2000’s …ticketing Critical Mass riders for riding their bikes in the public street!

Watts
Guest
Watts

I rode in many of those CMs, and yours is a wee oversimplification.

one
Guest

I understand why this is happening (Racist policing) but is not near enough to stop the inequitable treatment by PPB against BIPOC folks.

Maybe instead, we can end Qualified Immunity, hire more BIPOC and LGBTQ officers, hire officers with more education and training, and hire officers WHO LIVE IN Portland. ALSO, we can build a citizen review board who can actually police the racist actions by the police.

We should increase funding for social programs that reduce crime. It would cost MUCH less than all of the monies that go to the police.

Can someone post a link to the city budget? I specifically want to see how much money goes to the police and to the police retirement funds. I also want to see all of the money from the general funds that indirectly go to the police.

We need real leadership. Recall Ted Wheeler. Get him out of here.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

“hire more BIPOC and LGBTQ officers, hire officers with more education and training, and hire officers WHO LIVE IN Portland.”

They can apply now!

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

Applying is one matter. Hiring and retention is another.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

Who wouldn’t want to spend a huge chunk of their life in a racist, misogynistic boys club being harassed? Bonus points because you get to help feed the prison industrial complex that disproportionately hurts your community!

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

Agreed. I initially wanted to keep it short and simple because there are a variety of calibers of understanding, but there are just so many issues with “they can apply now”. The system is set up such that in theory anyone of any background can apply, but then there’s the hurdle of desirability of the job to someone who belongs to a marginalized community where the police have squandered whatever trust the community might have had, assuming they trusted the police at all (and why would they?), the ability to be hired in the first place in case that’s not a deterrent and you actually have the honorable intention of changing the system from the inside, the ability and/or desire to stay once you’ve gotten in…

Lesley F.
Guest
Lesley F.

“Police hate” is not going to get our community to a better place in terms of community safety. We need to stop with the caustic and triggering language. It didn’t work for Trump and won’t work for improving community safety in Portland or anywhere for that matter.

Bike Grrrl
Guest
Bike Grrrl

Cmh89,
Respectfully that seems like a sexist comment. A poignant article in the New York Times today about the struggles of a lesbian police officer in NC. Worth the read.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/24/us/police-resignations-protests-asheville.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage

Angelica Cortez
Guest
Angelica Cortez

No one in their right mind would apply to be a Portland police officer in today’s climate. Too much hate and intolerance in Portland.

maxD
Guest
maxD

what are the risks to the traveling public of allowing people to drive unregistered/unlicensed/uninsured vehicles?

Laura
Guest
Laura

There are several vehicles being driven in our neighborhood that, among other things, do not have functioning brakes. The drivers downshift and roll or gun it and speed through signals and stop signs. I think the risk to the law-abiding public is huge.

drs
Guest
drs

One reason is that the recidivism rate is extremely high among the population that drives under the influence of intoxicants or who operate motor vehicles recklessly. A number of high profile Portland cases of pedestrians and cyclists who have been killed in crashes by people who were driving motor vehicles were caused by individuals who were driving in unregistered vehicles with suspended licenses. Several of these cases have been documented on this blog in recent years: https://bikeportland.org/2020/01/10/arrest-in-st-johns-hit-and-run-and-prison-sentence-for-crash-on-n-willamette-309354

If the police aggressively pulled over and impounded unregistered vehicles, they could more effectively reduce the number of dangerous and unrepentant perpetrators of vehicular violence and car theft in the City of Portland.

I personally have had a car destroyed by the driver of a stolen and unregistered driver who fled the scene of the crime before police could arrive. Luckily, neither I nor my passenger were crippled or killed in the incident, but it was a close call.

Car theft rates are extremely high in the area, and anecdotally, I have personally experienced a large number of incidents and close calls involving the drivers of vehicles that were lacking registration or displaying expired registration.

There’s also the environmental impact of people driving in unregistered vehicles. The only way that pollution control is enforced in Oregon is at the time of vehicle registration, when vehicles are subject to emissions inspections. The system is basically impotent and useless because so many vehicle classes are exempt from pollution controls, but there has been a measurable improvement in air quality since emissions regulations were first enforced in the Portland metro area. If you allow vehicles to drive unregistered, air quality will inevitably suffer.

And again, anecdotally, I frequently see unregistered vehicles spewing clouds of smoke when they drive around Portland.

was carless
Guest
was carless

Valid question. When I was in Hawaii last, I learned that the annual vehicle check includes a safety inspection to make sure the vehicle functions properly.

Those that don’t pass, get removed from the road.
Perks of being an island – makes enforcement a lot simpler as cars can’t be driven from out of state.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Be safe out there!

J_R
Guest
J_R

This increases the potential for reaching 100 traffic deaths in Portland this year. If we don’t this year, I’m pretty sure we will next year. How many traffic deaths will it take before we collectively decide it’s actually a problem?

Watts
Guest
Watts

It’s the new kind of Portland Century.

David Hampsten
Guest
David Hampsten

That depend upon how you and everyone else who votes feels about raising your own taxes.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Are rich people dying? Then it’s a problem. Poor folks? Meh.

(the above comment is made with ironic cynicism, not literal sincerity)

SolarEclipse
Guest
SolarEclipse

Wow, just wow. The City, thanks to the mayor keeps going down down down. Why even have laws mayor? First no enforcement because of Covid, and look how many deaths have happened since then. The mayor is truly amazing.

Here’s the announcement I’d much rather hear from him:
“Today we are proud to announce that starting next month all Portland Police will be going through training for how to not use race as a factor in relations with the community. We know this won’t happen over night, but it will be the first of many trainings your Police will be going under to make us all safer in the community.”

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

Officers already have lots of anti-bias training, it doesn’t work, officers don’t take it seriously. I know firsthand, I was a PPB officer for 18 months. I’m left of center and studied social justice in college. I tried to be a change agent, the culture is entrenched. It was a terrible place to work. The only moments I had where I actually felt like I was helping was when I was taking on the role of a social worker.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

They are too racist to do their job properly. But instead of training them to be less racist, or getting new police who aren’t racist, their solution is to partially stop doing their jobs. And that policy, of course, still won’t stop the many racist ones from using their job to enact their racist agenda against Portlanders. What a fucking disgrace.

one
Guest

Exactly.

Mark in NoPo
Guest
Mark in NoPo

If PPB were announcing renewed emphasis on enforcing minor traffic violations, critics would declare that PPB was advancing racism. But today, the loudest anti-PPB crusaders are condemning PPB for ending that very same policy.

The Dude
Guest
The Dude

The criticism surrounds their acknowledgment of a longstanding, well-known, and totally unacceptable fact that racism plays a big roll in their work, while they are apparently doing nothing of substance to address it. They aren’t really ending anything: “Mayor Wheeler and Chief Lovell made it clear that police still have the ability to stop anyone they’d like…”

So, WTF?

Clem Fandango
Guest
Clem Fandango

Your “Longstanding, well-known, and totally unacceptable facts” are more like recently made up, fringe, opinions.

Luke S
Guest
Luke S

So now owners of large metallic killing machines don’t need to register them. No plates, old plates, a registered address from 3 owners prior. All good! You think people are aggressive drivers now in Portland. Just wait! I am beginning to think the leaders of this city have a mental deficit. Can I get a tank with pedals to ride so I’m safe?

Sure maybe we should stop police from routinely enforcing registration tabs but then you need to start a program at the PBOT where they are actively patrolling/ticketing/towing vehicles that are unregistered, without plates or have expired registration.

But now this is Portland and anarchy is considered to be compassionate. So we need to allow all the car owners who are the cause of rampant vehicular violence to not obey the law? Why don’t they have to pay their registration? Why would anyone if it is not enforced? What happens to the Safe Routes to School Program (funded by care tabs) when everybody stops paying their car tabs? I’m sure they won’t shift money from building roads to keep the Safe Routes to school program.

What about the pedestrian or cyclists after a hit by and run by an unregistered vehicle. What happens to them? You get the license plate but the registered owner is from 3 owners back. Where is the sympathy and compassion for the victims of vehicular violence Portland?

This whole idea is such a disaster, One further nail in the coffin of public safety in Portland.

1kw
Guest
1kw

Am I the ONLY person who has nearly resigned myself to a grisly end because I choose to ride 50 miles a week on my bicycle.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

Yes, “sorry’ that is a modal lifestyle choice! …Now thank you for paying your taxes (car, fuel, property, income, etc.)…and helping to meet the City’s climate goals…now just get out from under my rear vehicle tire!! Hey?! You sketched by oversized front grill.

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

While it is one thing to maybe forget to get your tags on the moment they come etc, once a car is several months overdue I suspect a very strong correlation between unlicensed drivers, uninsured drivers, and unregistered vehicles. I agree that the danger of a police interaction may not be warranted for an unregistered car, but considering how much more likely unlicensed/uninsured drivers are to be involved in injury/fatal collisions, that 1/8 of drivers in oregon are driving without a license or insurance, and the horrendous consequences for someone who is hit by an uninsured/underinsured driver we shouldn’t be ignoring this issue. It is especially bad for someone who is car-free and doesn’t have uninsured motorist insurance through their auto insurance. I think a reasonable solution here is to defund the police response to expired tags, replace with less expensive non gun carrying tow truck drivers, and simply impound any vehicle found to be operating with tags that are over 3 months past due, and require proof of drivers license and insurance that was active at the time of impound to recover the vehicle. We need to end uninsured operation of motor vehicles, and the minimum insurance level required should be increased significantly and should increase annually with inflation.

Ashkash R
Guest
Ashkash R

Bjorn, I love the tow truck idea!. Would be a great way to add some “living wage” jobs, it would help improve traffic safety and help people get their stolen cars back. With the increased revenue from registration fees we could improve our funding for the Safe Routes to School Program.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Arguably, communities most overrepresented in crash statistics would derive the greatest benefit from a reduction in uninsured and dangerous driving. I recall reading somewhere that poor people are involved in more crashes per capita, and they are the least able to withstand an expensive crash with an uninsured driver. Therefore, reduction of prevention efforts should be understood as hurting them disproportionately compared with other segments of society.

Yes, getting a ticket sucks, but what is that compared to being maimed, losing a parent, child, or spouse, or being financially devastated after being hit by an uninsured driver?

In this past year, we’ve doubled the chance of dying in a crash. If the risk was unacceptable last year, then why should we accept it this year?

John
Guest
John

I like this idea.

There will be pressure to exempt vehicles in which people are living, and anyone can claim they were doing so.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“I agree that the danger of a police interaction may not be warranted for an unregistered car…”

Why is this dangerous, and for whom? I am guessing the assumption is that such stops are dangerous for the driver, but this should not be the case. We have to be able to enforce “minor” infractions without such danger. We also cannot forget that unlicensed, uninsured motor vehicles are often driven by either scofflaws or desperate folks whose reactions to having their car towed/impounded might be unpredictable, and could pose a danger to any unarmed “enforcer”, whether that person is a police officer or tow truck driver.

Enforcement of any kind ultimately comes down to “force”. One cannot enforce anything on a person who has enough counterforce to resist it. An enforcer never knows how much resistance they will encounter. Up until now, some of our enforcers (police) have assumed WAY too much resistance and force on the part of some folks and responded completely disproportionately, but without any force at all, there is no such thing as “enforcement”, except on those willing to be punished.

So, either we teach/learn how to en”force” in a fair and impartial manner, and maintain the ability to enforce, or we cede “enforcement” essentially to self-policing and assign the duty of formally writing tickets or whatnot to a forceless official who can only write tickets or tow vehicles of those who are even less forceful, or have been trained to obey the government no matter what–but then how many of those types will find themselves in need of “enforcement”?

Bottom line is that without force, there can be no equitable enforcement, but with force must come training and judgement that make its application equitable.

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

Daunte Wright, 20, executed by a cop who claims she was confused about the difference between a gun and a taser, Rayshard Brooks, 27, shot twice in the back by a cop while posing no threat, George Floyd, choked to death by a cop after he was already cuffed and on the ground, Stephon Clark, officers fired 20 shots while he was standing in his grandmother’s backyard because they confused his cell phone for a gun, Eric Garner, choked to death because he was suspected of selling a loose cigarette, Michael Brown, not driving just walking but the cops executed him anyway, the list goes on and on and it happens here in Portland too. RIP James Chasse If you can’t figure out that there is real danger in every interaction with the cops you aren’t paying attention.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Serious question, they already seem to ignore all but the most severe traffic infractions. How can they de-emphasis minor traffic violations any further? For real, I’ve witnessed (1) total traffic stops in the time that I’ve lived in PDX. And that was during the lock down! When presumably the police were bored and looking for work to do.

Clem Fandango
Guest
Clem Fandango

Overheard this conversation at the picnic table outside the dive bar near my house:

Guy1: “OK I gotta go home”
Guy2: “You ok to drive across town? You’ve had a few and your tags are expired”
Guy1: “It’s fine. The cops don’t care about tags anymore anyway!”

Stay safe out there!

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“Past leaders of the PPB Traffic Division have raised concerns that too much focus of enforcement resources on designated “high crash corridors” (sections of streets with above average rates of deaths and injuries) can also reflect a bias since stats show that areas with lower incomes and a higher proportion of Black and people of color have higher crash rates.”

This statement describes so many problems. Why is there such a strong correlation between “lower incomes” and “Black and people of color”? Why do we want to back off “enforcement” of dangerous behaviors in locations that are empirically “more dangerous”? I mean, we don’t want to protect pedestrians (and drivers) because we’re too afraid of the optics of citing drivers (of any color)?

Is this what years of biased policing have finally gotten us? We don’t know how to enforce fairly, so just don’t enforce anything? We are progressing our way back to the good old 1420’s. Just stopping off in the 1870’s for a little Wild West fun first, I guess.

Bike Grrrl
Guest
Bike Grrrl

Yep, I agree El Bciclero. This is a misguided policy that will ironically only serve to deepen racial and economic inequality via increased harm to the poor and POC. We can do better than letting anarchy reign supreme.