Roughly two weeks after announcing a new partnership to patrol downtown Portland by bike and crack down on fentanyl, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) and Oregon State Police (OSP) reported eight arrests and the confiscation of 500 grams of powdered fentanyl and three handguns during an October 16 drug bust.
Earlier this month, the two agencies began collaborating on bike patrols focused on reducing fentanyl use and distribution. The focused patrol missions are part of a larger effort by Gov. Tina Kotek to revitalize Portland's central city area.
The new patrols come less than 90 days after House Bill 2645–which adds possession of fentanyl to the list of controlled substances punishable with a Class A misdemeanor–took effect in late July.
In response to the new law, police are now carrying digital scales and fentanyl testing strips for use during drug busts.
Portland Police Officer David Baer has been patrolling the streets of downtown Portland by bike long before the new dual agency mission. Baer says the new law, combined with help from OSP, has bolstered the ability to get fentanyl off Portland’s streets.
“At this point, I'm willing to accept any kind of help regarding downtown Portland,” Baer told the Mercury. “Having the State Police ride along with us has greatly increased our capacity to conduct missions against fentanyl dealers.”
Under Oregon’s revised drug possession and distribution laws, five or more grams of fentanyl, which police typically count as five or more pills, or 25 “user units” (doses) of fentanyl constitutes delivery or manufacture of a controlled substance.
Despite Oregon also having decriminalized small amounts of all hard drugs a few years prior, the new law spells out what amounts of fentanyl will still land someone in jail. Current law already stipulates that a person can be charged with a Class C felony for their part in manufacturing or delivering a drug that causes someone to overdose and die.
Police say the formula for arrest is rather easy to follow.
“Five pills or more is a misdemeanor, 25 or more is a felony,” Baer noted.
Portland city commissioners are trying to take drug enforcement even further, recently passing a resolution calling on state lawmakers to ban public consumption of controlled substances. Current law only regulates possession and distribution, not consumption.
The resolution would also trigger a change in city code to outlaw public drug use. The move was largely symbolic. For now, unless a change in state law is made, no such enforcement can legally take place.
The October 16 targeted drug bust took seven state troopers on mountain bikes, four Portland bike officers, as well as OSP patrol troopers and undercover detectives from the state’s drug enforcement section to nab eight people, one of whom was a minor. Charges ranged from possession of fentanyl to delivery of fentanyl.
PPB noted staff from the U.S. Department of Justice, Homeland Security investigators and personnel from Portland’s FBI office were also on scene to help.
The mission was the first major bust to be announced as a result of the beefed up bike patrols.
Both agencies called it a success.
“Their mission was simple: go to a single area in downtown Portland and disrupt and deter the unlawful sale of fentanyl on the open streets,” a news release from OSP stated, noting the enforcement spanned about 12 blocks downtown, but nearly all the arrests happened in an even smaller radius.
OSP Superintendent Casey Codding says the collaborative patrols are “making a difference.”
“We are committed to bringing a sense of safety to the downtown core, disrupting and deterring dangerous criminal actions, and aiding our vulnerable population in breaking the grasp of fentanyl,” Codding said.
The agency has not disclosed how many state troopers were dispatched to help PPB downtown. Gov. Kotek has also kept that information under wraps.