PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and PPB Chief Chuck Lovell announced two significant procedural changes within the police bureau during a press conference Tuesday.
In response to data showing a disparate impact on Black drivers for traffic stops and vehicle searches, the two agreed to make an adjustment to how officers make traffic stops of low-level infractions as well as consent searches of vehicles.
Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty applauded the moves made by Wheeler and Lovell saying they will “advance the cause of racial justice in policing.”
“I strongly support today’s announcement that PPB will no longer pursue minor traffic violations and will limit car searches, while informing drivers of their constitutional rights during these encounters,” she said in a statement following the press conference. “This allows the 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.”
Portland Commissioner Mingus Mapps also praised the changes.
“I welcome the news that the Portland Police Bureau will deprioritize stopping people for minor car issues like broken taillights,” he said in a statement. “With this change, the police will focus on serious public safety issues. I want to assure the public that the police will still enforce the law on larger infractions such as moving violations, reckless driving, and many other issues of public safety.”
Furthermore, Wheeler and Lovell fielded several questions from the media, particularly over the mass resignation of nearly 50 PPB Rapid Response Team officers. The bureau, which is authorized for 1001 sworn members, has a total of 809 — which is 125 fewer than a year ago at this time.
We asked the mayor about his response to RRT members’ reasons for leaving–which included injuries, “lack of leadership” from City Hall and elected officials. Wheeler said he was worried about the health of the bureau in the months and years ahead.
“I am worried about retention in the bureau,” he said. “These are men and women who do a very tough job under what I think what are the most difficult circumstances police officers have ever been asked to operate in. They’ve been out there night after night after night for 14 months. What I’m hearing from them is, they’re tired, they’re exhausted, they’re stressed. They don’t feel they have the level of support either from elected officials or from the community to do their jobs effectively.”
Wheeler said it was important the community be mindful of their wellness and that efforts to improve are needed on both sides.
“They deserve to be heard,” said Wheeler. “On the other hand, the public deserves to know that their safety is being protected. That’s why I’ve directed the chief to deploy the mobile field force, it’s not the same thing but it’s similar. We still have a lot of people in the bureau who are adequately trained.”
Lt. Greg Pashley with the PPB explained a “mobile field force group is a patrol of officers led by a sergeant and used, if needed, to respond to assist with crowd management. They are equipped with patrol uniforms, helmets, gas masks, batons, and the rest of their patrol gear. Each shift at each precinct usually assigns a mobile field force from the available officers on that particular date’s shifts in preparation for the shift, regardless of whether they are actually used.”
RRT resignations followed the announcement that a grand jury indicted an officer on one count of fourth degree assault for his actions during a protest in 2020.