Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell today announced two significant procedural changes within the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) focused on increasing equity and improving safety.
First, officers will no longer prioritize making traffic stops for the enforcement of low-level traffic infractions, like expired tags or minor equipment issues, that aren’t immediate public safety threats. Second, officers will follow new consent search protocols that will help ensure residents are aware of their Fourth Amendment rights.
These changes to PPB procedure follow calls from community members to reform PPB with a focus on reducing racial disparities and increasing safety.
“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,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said.
Under the new traffic stop protocol, officers will focus any traffic enforcement efforts on high crash corridors, reckless driving, speed enforcement and other moving violations that place people in immediate danger. PPB officers will still be authorized to make traffic stops based on probable cause to stop dangerous drivers or to makes stops pursuant to information related 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. 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.
Other cities that have enacted similar policies have seen a reduction in racial disparities in their traffic stop data. When the Oakland, California, police department enacted similar practices beginning in 2017, it cut the number of total traffic stops by more than a half. The decrease was even larger in the percentage of Black drivers being stopped over the same period.
“Prioritizing immediate safety threats will allow our officers to focus on what’s truly important: keeping Portlanders safe,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said.
“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.
“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 said. “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.”
The decision to change PPB’s consent search protocol comes from the dynamic seen in many police encounters in which people think they can’t assert their constitutional rights. This policy change offers a solution to this issue that disproportionately impacts people of color, particularly Black people. PPB data over the last five years shows Black drivers are searched at nearly double the rate of other drivers.
“We’re working to change this and ensure everyone is informed about their rights before a consent search,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said.
The new consent search protocol will make three major changes. First, officers will make an audio recording of their request when they ask for consent to search. Second, officers will submit the recording with the report they will be required to write about the consent search. Third, officers will provide information in writing about the right to refuse a consent search to any person who has been asked for their consent to search. In short, people will be informed that consent is theirs to grant or revoke, and the whole interaction will be documented.
“Issues around consent searches are a national concern. This upcoming directive will ensure PPB has a solid policy and procedures in place that appropriately document what occurred,” Lovell said. “I’m 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.”
The new protocols reflect calls for change from Portlanders of color, particularly Black Portlanders, who are too often disproportionately impacted by systems created without their input or participation that have lifelong negative impacts.
“I know we have more work to do, but these changes constitute significant progress in our work to reform our public safety system for the better,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “These reforms are steps toward more equitable policing and increased safety. Equally important, they reflect what this community is asking for.”
PPB and the City of Portland will track the outcomes of the new protocols to ensure they have the intended effect of increasing equity and improving safety.
“It will be important to track data related to refocused traffic enforcement and the policy change on consent searches in as near to real-time as possible to help measure the effectiveness of the initiatives,” Wheeler said. “I will keep up on incremental and long-term analysis to determine that the desired outcomes are being met."