Pain by Numbers

Anonymity for me, but not for thee

Just last week, the Portland Police Bureau announced they would require all officers to have three-digit identification numbers at protests and that their name tags would be sewn onto their uniforms. Hooray?

The PPB has been very careful to cover their badges, with their names, during protests. Some of the officers doing crowd control had identifying markings and numbers on their riot helmets, but in theory they could claim it just wasn’t them wearing that helmet on a particular night. After beating up protestors for months, a protestor might finally get to identify which PPB officer did the beating—if it happens again.  

PPB would tell you they fear their names being publicized because they don’t want the addresses or information of officers to become public. We live in a world where mugshots are shared online by police departments across the country, while here in Portland, right-wing agitators post personal information about protestors who were arrested over the summer. Much of the pre-COVID criticism of “antifa” centered around the fact that they were masked. Now, of course, everyone except PPB is consistently masked. PPB is eager to hide their identities but remains unafraid of spreading disease.  

Today, the NY Times published a story about one Portland citizen taking the work of identifying PPB officers in a more technological direction, by using facial recognition—the kind that was banned by the Portland City Council for use by the government on the citizens, but not by the citizens on the government—to determine the identities of PPB police officers. In the council meeting, Mayor Ted Wheeler called the use of the technology in that form “creepy” but legal. Is there a better endorsement of anything than being called “creepy” by Ted Wheeler?  

The Mayor and the PPB’s desire to stay anonymous and just keep doing what they are doing—when the protests are explicitly about pushing the Mayor and the PPB to stop doing things as they’ve been doing them—extends to finding out how much the PPB officers make in salary. The City Auditor only released a few names of the top 15 earners in the PPB last year. The top one is retired and is a noted Nazi sympathizer. The rest were allowed to stay anonymous. Fifty-seven percent of the police earned over $100,000 in the past fiscal year; that doesn’t even include any overtime they’ve earned during July, August and September of this year, the peak of the protests thus far. PPB also refuses to say which cops have been taken off street duty for alleged misbehavior.

Portland Commissioner Hardesty put forth a proposal to cut the PPB budget by another $18 million, after a $15 million haircut earlier this year, along with reforms to how their money is allocated internally. With the support of fellow Portland City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, the vote of newest Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan will be the swing vote to keep or kill the proposal next week, as it’s unlikely that Mayor Wheeler or Portland City Commissioner Fritz would support it. This also demonstrates how important the outstanding Portland City Commissioner race is: if Mingus Mapps, currently leading in the polls, unseats Eudaly, he’d very likely vote against this proposal, given that he’s taken a sizable amount of money from the Portland Police Association. Others have floated an idea to merge the PPB with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, though it’s unclear if it’s possible, advisable or would simply pass the buck to Mike Reese, who, while not an endorser of President Trump, was also, you guessed it, the Portland Chief of Police as recently as 2015. 

Any meaningful reform is also dependent on whether Ballot Measure 26-217 passes.  Designed to implement a series of police reforms (and opposed by the PPA, of course) it would create more civilian oversight. Whether this would counteract or be hamstrung by the existing collective bargaining agreement the PPA has with the City is unclear, and would likely be subject to a fair bit of litigation. 

In short, the PPB acts like an occupying force and is paid handsomely to do so. They don’t have to live in the city that they occupy—remember, fewer than 1 in 5 PPB officers live in Portland—but they also don’t want anyone to know who they are, how they’ve behaved as cops, or how much they make. If they’re proud of that record, we should at least know their names.