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New Policies Fight Bias in Traffic Stops

Mayor, police chief announce changes

Mayor Ted Wheeler (left) and Police Chief Chuck Lovell.


Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell Tuesday announced two new policy changes surrounding traffic stops for the police bureau.


It comes as jurisdictions around the county have been debating so-called “pretextual” stops where bias can often becomes the driver of a police officer’s decision to pull someone over.


The Maine House of Representatives, for example, voted to advance a proposal on Monday to prevent police from pulling drivers over to investigate “unrelated criminal activity for which the officer does not at the time of the stop have an articulable suspicion.”


According to Mayor Wheeler, who serves as the city's police commissioner, the policy changes in Portland will involve how officers make traffic stops for low-level infractions, and on consent searches of vehicles. Data in Portland shows a disparate impact on Black drivers for traffic stops and vehicle searches.

“I’m directing our sworn personnel to focus on safety violations and traffic on high-crash corridors,” Chief Lovell said, adding that stops of non-moving violations are still allowed but, “with emphasis on safety ... this seems like a sensible time to make this shift.”


Chief Lovell said he does not expect to see pushback from officers on the streets in regards to the policy changes.


Portland City Commissioner JoAnn Hardesty, a long time advocate for police reforms, issued a statement Tuesday supporting the actions Lovell and Wheeler are taking.


“I strongly support today’s announcement that PPB will no longer pursue minor traffic violations and will limit car searches, while informing drivers of their constitutional rights during these encounters,” Hardesty said. “This allows the police to focus on traffic violations that pose an immediate safety threat and other higher priority crime mitigation efforts, such as solving crimes related to the increase in gun violence.”


Hardesty noted that across the nation and here in Portland, traffic stops have historically led to unjustified police violence that have too often turned deadly for Black, Indigenous, and all Communities of Color.


Even less violent encounters have contributed to a feeling of being profiled and thus losing trust in law enforcement, she said.


“This is another positive step in the right direction and I want to thank the community that set these expectations for change through 150 days of protest last summer. The work continues and we will need your continued engagement to rethink community safety for all,” Hardesty said.

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