A protester confronts a PPB officers on April 16.
A protester confronts a PPB officers on April 16. NATHAN HOWARD / GETTY IMAGES

[You can read all of the Mercury’s “Top Stories of 2021” here.—eds]

After a year of sustained protests against police violence, Portland’s police force entered 2021 on shaky ground. This year saw police penalized for their actions during 2020’s protests, an alarming number of people killed at the hands of officers, and a reluctant acceptance that the city’s police force still requires a babysitter in the form of the federal government.

Portland Police Union President Resigns Amid Investigation: After five months on the job, Brian Hunzeker abruptly stepped down from his role as the president of Portland’s police union, the Portland Police Association (PPA). While we know the reason has something to do with Hunzeker’s ties to false allegations that City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty committed a hit-and-run in March, neither the PPA nor the city has explained his resignation nine months later. Hardesty has since filed a lawsuit against Hunzeker, the PPA, and another police officer for their involvement in spreading this story.

Portland Police’s Fatal Shootings: Portland police officers shot and killed four people in 2021. First, in April, officers shot and killed Robert Delgado, a homeless man living in Lents Parks, who was playing with a replica gun at the time he was shot. In June, Portland police killed Michael Townsend outside a Lloyd District motel after Townsend called the police to report his suicidal ideations. Then, in August, Portland police killed Alexander Tadros after he threatened to shoot DEA agents who were serving him with a warrant. Lastly, in early December, police shot and killed a man named Brandon Keck on I-5, after Keck had allegedly stolen a car at gunpoint. No officers have faced criminal charges for their involvement in these fatalities.

Police Officer Indicted for Assaulting Protester: For the first time in Portland's history, an officer was slapped with criminal charges for using force against a member of the public during a protest. In June, Officer Corey Budworth was charged with fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor, for striking photojournalist Teri Jacobs with a baton during an August 2020 protest. Budworth was a member of PPB’s Rapid Response Team (RRT), the police unit that responds to protests, demonstrations, and other large gatherings. A day after his indictment, all 50 officers assigned to the RRT resigned from the unit in protest, being reassigned to other patrol work. Budworth’s trial is scheduled to begin next year.

Police Fall Out of Federal Compliance: In 2014, the City of Portland reached a settlement agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) that laid out ways the city’s police force could use force against members of the public—specifically, people with a mental illness. According to the DOJ, the city had finally met all 190 terms of this agreement in early 2020. But then, the city erupted in protests—spurring police violence against thousands of demonstrators. In February of this year, the DOJ came back to tell the city that, because of its officers’ excessive use of force against protesters in 2020, the city is no longer in compliance with this settlement pact. In order to get back into compliance, the DOJ gave the city a checklist to accomplish—including introducing body cameras on police and penalizing faulty managers.

Limits to Traffic Policing: In June, PPB Chief Chuck Lovell announced that he’s instructing all officers to only focus on policing traffic violations that clearly threaten public safety. This is meant to limit officers from pulling drivers over for low-level infractions, like a broken headlight or expired tags—policies that have historically been used as pretext to predominantly stop and question drivers of color. In a city with a history of disproportionately stopping drivers of color, this change could go far. This update coincided with another change in traffic policing: A requirement from Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office for cops who pull over drivers and wish to search their vehicle to first inform drivers of their constitutional right to refuse a search. It’s too soon to tell if these changes have made an impact, but we’ll be keeping an eye on outcomes in the new year.