The Oregon State Police superintendent this summer responded to criticism from some retirees who accused the agency of wading into politics by outfitting a patrol car with temporary rainbow decals in honor of Pride Month.
After a State Police retiree complained to lawmakers about the car, Superintendent Travis Hampton issued a response that was widely shared among former employees. In his message, Hampton said he decided the agency would take part in Pride Month events and that the decision to decorate the car was “no more political than the relationship I have with my wife.”
The agency this summer posted a photo of the rainbow-decorated car on its Instagram. The photos showed a white patrol car with a rainbow-colored stripe and “state trooper” and “honor, loyalty, dedication, compassion, honor, integrity” shaded in rainbow colors.
Though it’s nothing new for police agencies to take part in Pride Month events, it was the first time the State Police decorated a car and participated in events in Bend and Portland. The car was assigned to the Salem Capitol Mall for the month of June. A placard with the car said the State Police “workforce includes LGBTQ employees and they want it known that they are here and working hard to support the agency’s mission.”
Some in the agency supported the decision. Others did not.
A senior trooper, Peter Arnautov, was placed on paid leave June 6 after command staff received a complaint that he had made a derogatory comment about gay people, in connection with the car, according to two law enforcement sources briefed on the matter but not authorized to speak about it.
Agency officials on Tuesday confirmed that Arnautov is on leave, though declined to say why. Arnautov was hired in 1999 and works in the agency’s Tribal Gaming Section; his annual salary is $96,919.
Reached Tuesday, Arnautov declined to address the reason for his leave. “I don’t have anything to say about that,” he said.
Some retirees voiced their objections in a closed Facebook group for retired Oregon State Police employees. They said the rainbow-outfitted car was inappropriate for the state’s largest law enforcement organization.
“I’m probably not going too far out on a limb to say that the people who support this would not be supportive of pro-life or pro traditional family values graphics being put on the patrol car,” one retired trooper wrote.
“This may be just the beginning,” wrote a retired sergeant. “Rainbow uniforms and stickers for guns. Badges that say we pay for abortions.”
A member of the group posted Hampton’s response to the criticism.
Hampton, a State Police veteran who was appointed to the top post in 2016 by Gov. Kate Brown, said LGBTQ people are vulnerable to bullying and violence as “evidenced in the school safety tip line” managed by the agency. He cited the “alarming” suicide rate among LGBTQ people and said they are victims of crime at “a much higher rate than other demographics.”
He said they also distrust law enforcement “based on the perceived bias they feel we have,” making them “reluctant to report crimes.”
“I hear from OSP employees that feel there is a bias against this group that impacts our ability to be an attractive employer and influences the way we transfer to choice assignments or promote,” the superintendent said.
He added that about 100 off-duty State Police employees planned to march in the Portland Pride Parade, which was held in June.
“This is a single car, for a single month that will be used in community outreach events to show we are not only an inclusive employer but a police agency that takes citizen crime reporting and welfare seriously,” said Hampton.
— Noelle Crombie
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