“Great news! PPB is partially bringing back the Traffic Division!”
That was the opening line of an email sent to local media outlets this afternoon from the Portland Police Bureau’s public information officer.
After hearing rumors about this inside City Hall for a few weeks, it appears a deal has been struck to build back a special traffic law enforcement detail at the PPB.
You might recall that in late 2020, while protests against policing and racial injustice were still a nightly occurrence the PPB decided to dissolve their Traffic Division. Chief Chuck Lovell said it was due to budget cuts (both realized and threatened), but the commissioner-in-charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation at the time, Jo Ann Hardesty, said it was a political stunt by Lovell to curry public sympathy. The way Hardesty put it in an interview with BikePortland in February 2021, “We have not impacted traffic enforcement at all. Because any patrol officer can write a ticket.” Either way, it was one of the first major steps by PPB to establish a narrative that they were no longer able and/or willing to enforce traffic laws at traditional levels.
About six months after the Traffic Division was shut down, the PPB announced they would de-prioritize enforcement of many minor traffic violations. For about two years, the PPB has said they are down to only one full-time officer whose sole job is to enforce traffic laws.
Now, more than two years later, politics at Portland City Hall has shifted dramatically. New PBOT Commissioner Mingus Mapps and Mayor (and PPB Commissioner) Wheeler are much more comfortable and supportive of the PPB in general. Asked about traffic enforcement and the PPB in my interview with Mapps two months ago, he said, “I think the city needs to step up its traffic enforcement work. In the last five years, traffic deaths in Portland have roughly doubled. It’s not like our infrastructure has gotten dramatically worse during that time. Frankly, it’s not really even like, you know, the amount of car traffic on the roads has dramatically increased. What has increased or changed during this time is the fact that we got out of the business of traffic enforcement.”
“So you want more police on the street enforcing traffic laws?” I asked.
“Yeah. I think I can say that,” Mapps replied.
A more intentional focus on traffic citations by PPB officers would be combined with recent progress in non-police enforcement methods likes traffic calming and other community-based interventions. Portland transportation officials, including Mapps, have also recently promised to double the amount of automated enforcement cameras on Portland streets by the end of this year.
The PPB said today that Chief Lovell will share more details at a press conference Tuesday where he’ll announce a “partial return” of the Traffic Division.
Stay tuned for more details.