Sarah Cline, Associated Press, June 23, 2021
Police in Oregon’s largest city are being advised to no longer pursue low-level traffic infractions — including expired plates and broken headlights — unless related to an immediate safety threat, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Tuesday.
In addition, if police do stop a driver they must receive recorded consent before searching the vehicle and clearly inform the person they have the right to refuse.
Wheeler said both changes are an attempt to refocus on immediate threats and are also occurring in response to data showing a a disproportionate impact on Black drivers for traffic stops and vehicle searches. While 6% of Portlanders are Black, he said they account for 18% of traffic stops in the city.
“The goal of these two changes is to make our safety safer and more equitable,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler noted these changes are also being done in part because of the police bureau’s limited staffing and resources.
Currently the police bureau, which is struggling to find its grounding in the liberal city, is at its lowest staffing in decades — the department is around 150 officers short of “authorized strength”.
In the past nine months, the department has experienced a rapid turnover with more than 120 officers having left, many citing low morale and burnout from racial justice protests that would end in confrontation and plumes of teargas.
The situation reached a breaking point last week when 50 police officers, who serve on a specialized crowd-control unit and respond to Portland’s ongoing protests, resigned en masse from the squad, but not the department.
Last summer, while officers’ priorities were shifted to protests, Portland was also experiencing its deadliest year in more than a quarter-century.
Gun violence has spilled over into this year, with at least 42 homicides so far. If nothing changes, Portland will surpass its all-time record for homicides of 70 set in 1987, when the city was in the midst of a gang siege.