The Portland Bureau of Transportation has ended a 15-year partnership with the Portland Police Bureau that centered around the enforcement of Oregon’s crosswalk law.
Since 2005 PBOT has conducted “pedestrian crosswalk education and enforcement actions” with the PPB. But in recent years conversations around the enforcement of traffic laws and concerns about racial profiling by police officers have intensified.
At a meeting of the City of Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee last night, PBOT Traffic Safety Section Manager Dana Dickman said City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly asked the bureau to stop working with police.
“There had been concerns about secondary violations,” Dickman told the committee. “People were being pulled over for failure-to-yield, but during the stop they are cited for lack of insurance or a suspended license. And then the citations rack up… There was a concern we are potentially bringing people into a much more serious situation, impacting them financially, and bringing them into a legal situation in a way we didn’t intend… Our commissioner and community members felt that was potentially punitive.”
Dickman said discussions with the PPB began in fall 2019 on how to change protocol during crosswalk enforcement missions to make them educational and without legal or other punitive consequences. Ideas included only citing for warnings or moving violations and ignoring those “secondary violations” like suspended licenses or other more serious infractions. But police didn’t feel comfortable with turning a blind eye to some offenses. “Police felt strongly that it was a huge liability for them… and that it would be abdicating their duty around public safety.”
Commissioner Eudaly’s office confirmed this morning that PBOT will no longer work with police on this program. References to crosswalk enforcement actions have been deleted from PBOT’s Traffic Safety Resources webpage.
“Commissioner Eudaly decided that it was best to end these collaborations until we can establish a mutual agreement about the purpose and scope of these events that lead with equity.”
— Margaux Weeke, Commissioner Eudaly’s office
Eudaly’s Communications Director Margaux Weeke shared with us that the partnership between the PPB and PBOT came to light during an examination of how to make enforcement aspects of the City’s Vision Zero more equitable. “Commissioner Eudaly decided that it was best to end these collaborations until we can establish a mutual agreement about the purpose and scope of these events that lead with equity,” Weeke said. “There were several attempts to find equitable solutions that everyone could agree on, but those discussions are no longer taking place.”
This decision marks a shift for Eudaly, who has in the past been an advocate for more police funding of traffic enforcement over the objections of fellow Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. Hardesty was the lone “no” vote on a Vision Zero report brought to council by Eudaly last year. “I continue to have the concern that we are over-criminalizing one segment of our community and using them as the reason why people are dying rather than the poor conditions of our roads,” Hardesty said before casting her vote.
This renewed conversation between Portland’s transportation and police bureaus is ongoing and is sure to heat up in the months and years ahead. Calls for the end of racist policies and police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, fueled by persistent protests, have sparked a widespread re-examination of traffic law enforcement. Portland has already acted to remove police officers from schools and transit and Commissioner Hardesty is pushing for more reforms.
At the meeting last night, PBOT’s Dickman said, “I’d say the conversation isn’t over. I believe there is a way to have conversations with folks without citing them that could have an impact as well. There might be a way to do that without police, or maybe police need to be directed from their leadership to engage differently with the community.”
“It might be groundbreaking to assume there is no police force at this point,” Pedestrian Advisory Committee member Evelyn Amara added, while calling for stronger educational efforts instead of enforcement. “Thinking ahead it’s very important to assume that the police officers are not intended to do that job. And they may not be around in their current form much longer.”
The PPB is still conducting “pedestrian safety crossing missions” on their own. On May 13th a five-hour mission at NE Halsey and 106th resulted in 25 citations, 27 written warnings, and one arrest.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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