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Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers will likely no longer be a part of a tri-county public transit policing division starting January 1, 2021.
The change was announced by Mayor Ted Wheeler at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, as part of a list of police reforms Wheeler and the Portland City Council plan to enact in the near future. Those reforms come in response to protests against police violence seen in Portland and across the country for almost two weeks now.
“The community has said loudly and clearly that they do not want to see Portland police officers used for that purpose on transit,” Wheeler said at the press conference. “I do not believe that will lead to less safety on the transit system, because if there is an issue on the transit system, people will still call 911.”
PPB is currently part an intergovernmental agreement with TriMet and 13 other police departments from other cities in the TriMet service area, including Beaverton, Gresham, and Oregon City. Officers from the 14 different police departments work together in responding to incidents that happen on TriMet vehicles and at transit stops.
Currently, PPB oversees the Transit Division, and dedicates 32 officers to the division—though plans were already in the works for PPB to transfer oversight to the Multnomah County Sherriff’s Office (MSCO) as of June 15, according to a report from the Portland City Auditor’s Independent Police Review (IPR) released this morning. But in addition to giving up leadership of the division, Wheeler says the plan now is for PPB to withdraw from it entirely at the end of the year, when PPB’s contract with TriMet expires.
The IPR report found that the Transit Division weakens police accountability as a whole, because the program is comprised of so many separate police departments with different protocol and expectations.
“It is not uncommon for community members to approach [IPR] with a complaint about an encounter with Transit Division officers and be disappointed to learn that it cannot investigate unless the officer who is the subject of their complaint works for the Portland Police Bureau,” the report reads. “IPR refers those complaints to the officer’s jurisdiction, but most police departments do not have equivalent independent investigators like Portland does.”
While PPB’s withdrawal will halve the number of officers in the Transit Division, there’s currently no indication that other regional police departments plan to follow suit. As Wheeler noted, PPB officers will still be able to respond to 911 calls on TriMet property.
And even if other police departments follow suit in withdrawing from the Transit Division, TriMet won’t be lacking for a security presence. In addition to transit police, TriMet’s web of security professionals also includes hired fare inspectors, hired customer safety officers who “discourage inappropriate behavior” and can also assist with fare enforcement, and contracted security guards from the private firm G4S. Guards from G4S do not have the explicitly stated power to enforce TriMet code, but do patrol the transit system.
A TriMet spokesperson confirmed to the Mercury back in October that while no TriMet employees carry weapons, G4S contracted guards do carry batons and pepper spray. Transit Division police are the only members of TriMet’s security apparatus who carry guns.
When announcing his plan to withdraw PPB officers from the Transit Division in January, Wheeler noted that the decision isn’t final, and his fellow Portland City Council members “could override” his decision.
“But based on the conversations I’ve had, I don’t believe they will,” he added.