Portland could lose control of Transit Police

Multnomah County
transit police TriMet fare 03302019_1553969958008.jpg.jpg

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Power over the police force which protects riders on all of TriMet’s buses, trains and platforms could be pulled from the Portland Police Bureau. 

KOIN 6 News learned TriMet is in talks with the Multnomah County sheriff to have their office potentially take over. ​

“With the agreement coming up for renewal next year, we are currently in discussions with TriMet and our local law enforcement partners on the best way to continue delivering quality public safety services to our regional transit system,” Sgt. Brandon White of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office wrote in an email to KOIN 6 News.

TriMet is not revealing much about the talks or their goals. ​
“Our contracts with police agencies are not up for renewal until next summer and it is too early to speculate about the future structure of the Transit Police Division,” wrote TriMet spokesperson Roberta Altstadt.​

The Portland Police Bureau has led the Transit Police Division for years. It is comprised of 62 officers from 16 law enforcement agencies in the metro area, and is led by a PPB commander.

TriMet's new Transit Police Central Precinct will replace this one in Old Town/Chinatown (Portland Tribune/Jonathan House, file)
TriMet’s new Transit Police Central Precinct will replace this one in Old Town/Chinatown (Portland Tribune/Jonathan House, file)

The agreement has been strained recently after the sheriffs of Washington and Clackamas counties informed the City of Portland they would no longer allow their deputies to answer calls of service or participate in mutual aid agreements with Portland. The counties are concerned about exposing their officers and departments to costly abuse-of-force lawsuits that are more common in Portland. ​

“As you know, our command staff and executive team have been actively assessing the risk of your work within the City of Portland … I will not place you at unnecessary personal and professional risk,” Clackamas Sheriff Craig Roberts wrote  April 26. (Full statement below)

Roberts also pointed to an angry statement from the Portland Police Officers union on April 8 accusing the city council of not supporting police.​

“Residents and business owners are up in arms, not because the men and women who serve their communities aren’t doing their jobs, but because they know City Hall has put a stranglehold on proactive policing and enforcement and has been completely unsupportive of PPB and its officers. For example, Mayor Wheeler is quick to praise the work done by police officers until controversy stares him in the face, ” wrote Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner.

A spokesperson for Mayor Ted Wheeler told KOIN 6 News the PPB would be best to comment on the possible transition of power to Multnomah County. 

“We haven’t seen anything or heard anything from TriMet that’s official,” said Sgt. Brad Yakots with the Portland Police Bureau. “We’re researching our options.”​
The talks between TriMet and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office have been only preliminary.  A spokesman for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office says that agency was not aware of the idea.​

TriMet said transit officers from Washington and Clackamas Counties currently do not go into Portland’s jurisdication. The goal of transferring leadership to the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office would be to encourage Washington and Clackamas counties to fully participate again.​

“The sheriff wants to make sure TriMet riders have the biggest public safety they can,” said Matt Ferguson, the president of the union for the Multnomah County Deputies. “If we can be a leader in that and bring the other agencies back in the fold, that would be the best for the area.”​

Ferguson told KOIN 6 News the idea is relatively new and he does not know specifics. ​

One of the options is for TriMet to start its own police force – like other big cities  – but building that infrastructure from scratch could be a difficult task to complete before the current contract with Portland Police expires in 2020. ​

“What are the different models we could use to bring those other agencies back into the fold to provide the best public safety for those riders?” said Ferguson. “How we could we do that? If it’s a leadership role or shared role, I don’t know.”​

Full statement from Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts, April 26, 2019

Sheriff’s Office Change in Services within the City of Portland
To all Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office employees: I want to give you an important update on changes to services we provide in the City of Portland.

As you know, our command staff and executive team have been actively assessing the risk of your work within the City of Portland.

Recently, Undersheriff Brandenburg met with many of our deputies assigned to answering routine calls for service in the City of Portland to listen to their concerns related to safety. I’ve also had conversations with other city, state and federal law enforcement leaders, including Portland Police Chief Outlaw. Lastly, I’ve taken into account the Portland Police Association’s concerns outlined in their April 8 statement, which you can read here.

As I said in my earlier email on this topic, I will not place you at unnecessary personal and professional risk.

As a result of these and other assessments, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office will pull back all staff responding to calls for services within the City of Portland in the coming weeks.  Those actions are as follows: 

  • We are working with TriMet to develop a new Intergovernmental Agreement that will reassign deputies to meet the public safety needs of citizens accessing TriMet within Clackamas County. We intend to continue assigning one sergeant and six deputies to provide timely responses for law enforcement services and maintain passenger safety.
  • With respect to deployment of special teams, we will evaluate requests for assistance on a case-by-case basis. This applies to SWAT, the Crisis Negotiations Team (CNT), and the Rapid Response Team (RRT/CERT). 
  • We will continue our participation on the United States Marshals Fugitive Task Force and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. 
  • No changes will be made to operations involving Corrections staff who work the Electronic Home Detention Program, Parole and Probation staff who supervise clients in the City of Portland, and the Metropolitan Explosive Disposal Unit (MEDU). All will continue with their regular duties.

I don’t make these decisions lightly. I appreciate and commend the difficult work Portland Police officers do every day, and I also commend Portland Police Chief Outlaw for her leadership in a very difficult environment. I admire her commitment to improving public safety and community relations. 

As Sheriff, your safety and the safety of Clackamas County residents remain my top priorities. Our work is dangerous enough without adding unnecessary risk when responding to calls for services in the City of Portland. 

I also want to make this clear: We will always respond to help any officer from any agency in immediate need of assistance.

Take care of each other and be safe.


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