Portland police plan to stencil large three-digit numbers on officers’ helmets by Nov. 15 to help people more easily identify officers during protests.
The three-digit number will reflect a new numbering system for city officers’ identification, now four and a half months into nightly social justice protests that began shortly after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for several minutes.
The Police Bureau has faced criticism since it allowed officers in early June to remove their name tags during the protests and replace them with tape containing six-digit employee numbers that are difficult to read and mark down.
Portland police have said they removed officers’ name tags from uniforms out of concern for officers’ personal safety following doxxing.
Doxxing refers to the release and distribution of someone’s personal information. Portland police said it became an issue during the 2014 protests in the city decrying the Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. A police after-action report recommended after those protests that officers wear their personnel numbers, instead of names, during large protests, according to police.
Former Chief Jami Resch told officers they could cover their name tags on their outer uniforms with tape that instead showed their city personnel number while working on the street during protests.
The personnel number provided to the officer by the city is different from the number given to each public safety officer certified by the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, and the city wasn’t forthcoming with officers’ personnel numbers in response to public records requests.
Civil rights advocates immediately blasted the change in June, arguing that it flew in the face of police accountability and was particularly disturbing at a time when thousands of protesters have taken to the streets nightly to demonstrate against police brutality and racism.
“We support peaceful protest and understand that reforms to advance racial justice are necessary and overdue,” Deputy Chief Chris Davis said in a statement Friday night. “We also want the public to be able to easily identify officers if they have concerns.”
The bureau also plans to eventually return last names to police uniforms, embroidering them onto the uniform instead of having officers wear metal name tags affixed to their uniforms. But the bureau did not provide a timeframe for the names to return to police uniforms.
“The size and font will be standardized and big enough” to be seen, police said in a release Friday night.
In the same release, the bureau also said it has removed five officers from crowd control assignments and put them in “alternative” duties while their actions during recent protests are under investigation stemming from complaints from the public.
That’s a total of five officers placed in other duties since the social justice protests began May 29, Capt. Tina Jones said Friday night. The bureau did not identify these officers or the incidents that prompted the inquiries.
Last week, city-hired consultants criticized the Police Bureau for not initiating a deadly force investigation into an officer caught on video striking a woman protester in the head with a baton.
Also last week, the Independent Police Review said it was starting an inquiry into the actions of an officer who had the number 67 on his helmet, after a Willamette Week story about two journalists and an activist who gave accounts of the officer shoving them to the pavement during a demonstration.
Officers who have had two-digit numbers on their helmets belong to the bureau’s Rapid Response Team, the specialized riot-clad, crowd control squads, police said.
The Independent Police Review office, the intake center for complaints against officers, can be reached by calling 503-823-0146 or can accept complaints filed online.
— Maxine Bernstein
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