Traffic Division latest task force stripped from Police Bureau

UPDATED! Most Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division patrol officers taken from the unit.  Outer East Portland neighbors wonder if the Neighborhood Response Team is next …

Keeping an eye out for those breaking traffic laws in outer East Portland, a Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division motorcycle officer prepares to make a stop.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Now that the majority of officers have been stripped from the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Traffic Division, it looks as if the City’s goal of “Vision Zero” traffic fatalities may be in jeopardy.

>> Read on to see why neighbors are concerned that the PPB East Precinct’s Neighborhood Response Team might next be on the chopping block.

Although unsigned, a letter from an organization calling itself “Voices Behind the Badge” (VBB), an Oregon-based non-profit organization, circulated in January, made a startling claim that “On February 4, 2021, the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Division will cease to exist.”

The letter further states:

“This division has been an integral part of neighborhood communities, tasked with specific duties of traffic enforcement, speed racing, serious injury collision investigation, school zone speed enforcement, fatal collision investigations, DUII enforcement, traffic complaints and major traffic crime investigations.

“There will no longer be any officers dedicated to enforcing any traffic offenses. These violations will be allowed to take place and only until a serious bodily injury or death occurs will an officer be assigned to investigate. Proactive police work that limits the occurrence of these serious injuries will no longer transpire.”

VBB also pointed out that the Traffic Division provides traffic control services for many community events including parades – such as the 82nd Avenue of Roses Parade and other neighborhood events – as well as serving at demonstrations, dignitary motorcades, and sponsored “runs”, “walks” and bicycle events.

Prediction comes true
On February 4, the PPB sent this release to media that read, in part:

The reorganization will be implemented on today, February 4, 2021. Here is a summary of positions being moved to patrol:

48 Officers who had been assigned to the Rapid Response Team (RRT) full time
3   RRT Sergeants
18 Traffic Division officers
2   Traffic Division sergeants
7   K9 officers
1   K9 sergeant
6   Transit officers (transferred in January)
6   Narcotics and Organized Crime officers
1   Narcotics and Organized Crime sergeant
3   Community Engagement officers
1   Community Engagement sergeant
2   Public Information officers
1  Behavioral Health Unit officer

Starting this week, PPB Traffic Division officers, like this one, won’t be on the street, stopping impaired or unsafe drivers.

Genuine traffic safety concerns
Further, the letter asserts that 2020 public records show 58 traffic-related fatalities, more than 550 DUII arrests, and 4,827 Speeding Tickets – with 231 them issued from January through March 2020 in school zones – which suggests that Portland’s streets still do need monitoring.

We contacted the Portland Police Bureau’s Public Information Unit, asking if this was a factual claim. “It’s true that all of the officers currently assigned to the Traffic Division for road safety enforcement are being reassigned to Precinct Patrol,” said Portland Police Public Information Officer Sergeant Kevin Allen.

“However, it is not true that the Traffic Division will cease to exist, completely,” Allen told East Portland News. “Portland Police will still have a Traffic Investigation Unit, including our full-time crash reconstructionists, and sergeants to coordinate the Major Crash Team, federal grants, special events, and other duties,” he continued.

In all kinds of weather, the PPB Traffic Division’s Major Crash Team goes out to investigates serious, or fatal, crashes.

“Community members will still see motorcycle officers out on specific missions, funded by grants, and in some cases they may be doing traffic safety enforcement in between other duties. But, the Traffic Division will be very different, as they will no longer be assigned to that mission full time,” Allen conceded.

After the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has subsided, it’s unclear if Traffic Division officers will provide traffic control for beloved neighborhood parades.

We asked whether providing officers to help out at parades – whenever they’re allowed to resume – is still up in the air. “That’s a good question,” Allen acknowledged. “A lot of what will take place still being worked out; so, once those events start to happen, we will have to evaluate what we can realistically do.

“The plan is always subject to change, based on the needs of our community, staffing, and future funding,” Allen concluded.

Please drive safely, even if you’re not being watched.

Neighborhood Response Team may be cut, neighbors fear

Long time, and awarded, PPB East Precinct Neighborhood Response Team member, Officer Robert Brown, helps out at a past “Drug Turn-in Event”. Neighbors hope that he, and others with the ‘team’ aren’t reassigned to patrol duties. East Portland News archive image

Residents of the Lents neighborhood told East Portland News that they had heard, from a source they deemed reliable, that the PPB East Precinct Neighborhood Response Team was also on the chopping block.

In a note emailed to members of the Portland City Council, including Mayor Ted Wheeler, Char Pennie wrote, in part:

“Regardless of what the news may or may not report I feel that it is very short-sighted of you to further cut our [Portland Police Bureau] specialty teams that are attempting to keep our neighborhoods safe. Please reconsider what you are doing to our very vulnerable neighbors before cutting any more resources out of our neighborhoods.”

Asked about this at our deadline today, February 5, PPB Sgt. Allen checked into the concern and responded, “No, there is still a NRT intact.

“Last I heard they were assisting with call response when needed, but they’re still assigned to NRT. I’ll check with East Precinct’s Command staff to see what changes that have been made, if any,” he added.

On February 6, PPB East Precinct Commander Erica Hurley responded to our request for information about their NRT officers, briefly and clearly: “It is NOT being disbanded.”

We’ll keep you informed about changes in PPB East Precinct as they unfold.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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