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Portland police no longer making some traffic stops, citing ‘racial disparities’

Police cruiser in Portland, Oregon (Oregonian file photo/The Oregonian/OregonLive/TNS)
June 29, 2021

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced last week that city police will no longer issue citations for low-level traffic offenses, including expired tags and broken headlights, in an effort to reduce “racial disparities” in traffic stops.

According to a press release, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) must also get recorded consent to search vehicles during a traffic stop, in addition to clearly notifying drivers that they have the right to refuse.

The goal is to make our city both safer and more equitable, helping reduce the number of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who are disproportionately impacted by consent searches and traffic stops,” Wheeler said in a statement.

Police will now focus traffic enforcement on “high crash corridors, reckless driving, speed enforcement and other moving violations that place people in immediate danger.” Officers will still be able to make traffic stops based on probable cause relating to dangerous drivers, as well as stops relating to specific investigations.

“The new protocol aims to reduce the racial disparities seen in Portland traffic stop data, which has shown for years that Black people are stopped at higher rates than white people,” the city’s press release stated. “Data released by PPB in 2019 shows that white Portlanders—who make up 75 percent of the population—accounted for 65 percent of the traffic stops done by PPB officers. Black Portlanders—who make up only about six percent of the population—made up 18 percent of the stops.”

The release claimed that other cities have implemented similar protocols that resulted in a reduction in racial disparities identified in traffic stop data.

“We know policing must continue to evolve and adapt to changing times, and we have made substantial changes in our organization over the last decade. We also know that we have limited resources and must direct those resources appropriately,” Police Chief Chuck Lovell said in a statement.

“So far this year, 28 people have died in fatal crashes—which is significantly higher than in 2020 at this time. We need to focus on behaviors that result in serious or fatal crashes, such as speeding, driving while impaired, distracted driving, etc.” Lovell continued. “Stops for non-moving violations or lower level infractions will still be allowed, but they must have a safety component or have an actionable investigative factor to it.”

Lovell also asserted that issues relating to consent searches are a “national concern,” adding that he is “hopeful these changes will demonstrate to the community that we have listened to their concerns and feedback while also balancing the use of our limited resources efficiently.”