Portland Police will no longer prosecute minor traffic violations and limit car searches


Portland’s police chief and mayor are expected to announce on Tuesday that city police will no longer stop motorists for minor infractions, such as equipment failures or expired plates, to reduce disproportionate stops by people colored.

And if the police stop drivers, officers must explain that the motorist can refuse a request to search their cars.

The changes also aim to reduce the potential for fatal encounters between police and people of color and allow police to focus on more serious offenses that pose an immediate threat to public safety.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Chief Chuck Lovell are holding a noon video conference to announce what they have called “two important procedural changes.”

The city is moving forward after House Bill 2002, which reportedly called for similar changes to statewide police traffic law enforcement, died this legislative session. The Black Indigenous and People of Color Caucus, as well as grassroots organizations that supported the bill, were disappointed that it did not gain legislative support. In a joint statement, they called it a “deeply disappointing setback for Oregonians who appreciate and called for racial justice and changes in our approach to community safety.”

The changes to the Portland Police Force build on actions taken by the Oakland Police in November 2019 and restrictions imposed on law enforcement by the Berkeley Police in February.

In Berkeley, city council voted to order police no longer to arrest drivers for minor traffic violations, including equipment violations, expired vehicle registrations or not wearing seat belts. Instead, police have been ordered to conduct roadside checks for offenses that endanger public safety, such as excessive speed, red light or stop sign, and driving under the influence. A person in this city can still be cited for minor offenses if arrested for reasons of public safety.

Also in Portland, police will be required to inform motorists of their right to refuse a search of their car or to end a search if it has already started if the police do not have a warrant to search it.

There will be exceptions, such as if the driver is cited for driving under the influence of intoxicants or for other public safety reasons.

The changes are expected to take effect through new office guidelines in the coming weeks.

According to the most recent data from the police station, Portland officers from the traffic division and all other officers, including patrollers and investigators, arrested 33,035 drivers in 2019.

Blacks accounted for 22% of all checks of non-traffic cops, a disproportionate rate considering they made up around 6% of the city’s population. Looking only at stops made by Portland traffic officers, blacks made up 11% of the stops.

In 2019, 4% of drivers were asked to consent to a voluntary police search. According to the bureau’s report, black drivers were asked to consent to a search almost twice as many as all other racial groups. Police asked black drivers to be searched in 8.2% of stops, while they asked white drivers in 3.1% of stops.

White drivers were significantly more likely to decline a search than black drivers, according to the report.

This disparity reflects “an imbalance of fairness that can be attributed to systemic issues of race and power in the criminal justice system and law enforcement,” according to the office’s report on police checks in 2019.

In April, Jason Myers of the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, Kevin Campbell of the Oregon Association Police Chiefs, Paige Clarkson of the Oregon District Attorneys Association, Rob Bovett of the Association of Oregon Counties, and Scott Winkels, of the League of Oregon Cities, expressed reservations about the restrictions proposed by the 2002 House Bill on police traffic stops.

In written testimony to state lawmakers, they argued that preventing police from arresting a driver if a car’s headlight or taillight is off would pose a safety risk as the vehicle’s lights give to other motorists on the road “an awareness of their presence and a perception of the location of the other car in relation to theirs.

–Maxine Bernstein

Email mbernstein@oregonian.com; 503-221-8212

Follow on Twitter @maxoregonian


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