Portland, OR – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Tuesday that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) would no longer write tickets for low-level offenses like expired license plates and broken headlights.
Wheeler said that when officers do make a traffic stop, they will have to get a recorded consent to search a vehicle and clearly inform drivers that they have a right to refuse, the Associated Press reported.
“The goal of these two changes is to make our safety safer and more equitable,” the mayor said.
Wheeler said policy changes were implemented in response to data that showed black drivers were disproportionately impacted by traffic stops and vehicle searches, the Associated Press reported.
The mayor said that while only six percent of Portland is black, black drivers make up 18 percent of the city’s traffic stops.
He said the change would allow police to focus on immediate threats, the Associated Press reported.
Wheeler also said the changes were also being made because Portland police had limited staffing and resources.
“Our staffing on the streets is inadequate,” the mayor said.
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said that he was directing Portland police officers to cease stopping drivers for low-level traffic violations, the Associated Press reported.
However, Chief Lovell said officers would use their judgement and make stops when the violation was an immediate threat, such as driving without headlights at night.
More than 120 officers have left PPB in the past nine months, citing burnout and low department morale after months of trying to manage violent protests in the city, the Associated Press reported.
On June 16, the police department announced that all of the members of PPB’s Rapid Response Team (RRT) had unanimously voted to resign from the team.
As a result, the agency will no long have an RRT, which has been the primary unit that handled the violent uprisings that have erupted on a regular basis in downtown Portland for more than a year now.
The team responded to over 100 riots and demonstrations last year alone, KPTV reported.
The approximately 50 officers who volunteer for the RRT have all received advanced training related to crowd control and management, “including crowd psychology and behavior, team formations and movements, the use of enhanced personal protective equipment, use of force, de-escalation, and arrests,” the PPB said.
The now-former team members are all sworn members of the PPB and will continue serving in their regular assignments, according to the press release.
PPB’s priorities have shift since George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020, the Associated Press reported.
Officers have been deployed repeatedly to deal with protests and the chaos that surrounded them, leaving crime to escalate in other areas.
Gun violence is up, and with 42 homicides already in 2021, Portland is on track to beat its all-time high of 70 homicides in 1987, the Associated Press reported.
PPB has estimated that more than half of the 500 shootings so far this year in Portland were gang-related.
Wheeler warned residents in May that perpetrators were being told by gangs to shoot someone within 30 days or be shot and criminals were coming from other states to engage in violence in Portland, the Associated Press reported.
Long-time Portland residents complained the gun violence in the city was the worst it has ever been, but the police department doesn’t have the officers or funding to deal with it.
In May, the Portland City Council voted to create a team made up of 12 officers and 2 sergeants to tackle the gun violence problem, but they didn’t fund it, the Associated Press reported.
Chief Lovell said the department was so understaffed that he would probably have to pull officers off patrol, or away from domestic violence and human trafficking investigations, to create the new team.
City leaders slashed $27 million from the police budget in 2020, $15 million of it the result of activists’ calls to defund the police department, the Associated Press reported.
The other $11 million that was stripped away was blamed on the pandemic-related budget crisis.