Top Stories 2023

The Biggest Portland Transportation News of 2023

PBOT struggles, Rose Quarter snags, and deadly crashes marked a busy year in Portland transportation.

The Biggest Portland City Hall News of 2023

This year, the city managed to help and harm the unhoused, while leaning on pre-pandemic work models to try to revitalize downtown.

The Biggest Portland Labor News of 2023

Move over "hot labor summer." 2023 was a hot labor year for Portland workers.

Portland's Top VILLAINS for 2023—Ranked!

Portland's villains were especially busy this year... here's who caused the most trouble.

The Biggest Portland Police News of 2023

Big police settlements, a new top cop, and whatever happened to oversight? All that and more in the biggest police stories of 2023!

The Biggest Portland Environmental News of 2023

Oil company lawsuits, asbestos rain, and Rubio disappoints activists: A lot happened in 2023's environmental news.

This year was filled with major milestones and a few missteps from Portland police, who in October found themselves under new leadership. In 2023, the number of shootings by police was down from prior years, but efforts to form a new oversight system for reviewing uses of force and misconduct is already facing opposition from police and city leadership.

New (old) chief appointed

Note: This story has been corrected to note that Jami Resch served as police chief briefly before Lovell took over.

Perhaps the biggest development within the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) this year was the September announcement that former Police Chief Chuck Lovell was stepping down from the top job. Lovell was plucked away from his job as a captain of PPB’s Community Services Division in 2020 and catapulted to a promotion as chief. He took over for Jami Resch, who served in the job for six months, after former chief Danielle Outlaw left the bureau in 2019.

In Lovell’s place, Mayor Ted Wheeler, the city’s police commissioner, appointed Bob Day, a retired deputy police chief, to do the job on a temporary basis until a new city council and city administrators come aboard in 2025 and decide who should fill the role permanently.

The change was unusual. Lovell isn’t retiring or leaving PPB. Instead, he told media, it was just never a job he intended to do for very long when he agreed to serve as chief three years ago.

Since coming out of retirement to take the helm again, Chief Day has implemented “walking patrols” in neighborhoods around the city, to get officers more acquainted with their beats and the people who live in them. 

Day, who retired from PPB in 2019, was part of bureau leadership during the time investigators believe an offensive “Prayer of the Alt Knight” meme was created and later used as a slide in training materials on policing protests. The image appears to depict a soldier assaulting someone, with captions about a “dirty hippy” whose head shall be “christened with hickory” and face “anointed with pepper spray.” It surfaced in 2021 during a lawsuit against the city and police for tactics used against protesters during the 2020 racial justice demonstrations. It’s unclear who created the slide, or whether Day or Outlaw knew about it at the time.

Police shootings are down

Wednesday, December 27 marked the fourth incident of PPB officers shooting and killing someone this year. The latest officer-involved shooting happened in the parking lot of the Target store at Mall 205, when a man was shot after running from police. 

Earlier this month, 27-year-old Isaac Seavey was shot and killed by police outside an RV parked near a food processing plant.

Back in July, officers shot and killed PoniaX Kane Calles, the suspect who killed a hospital security guard at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center, after a long search.

In April, Jack Watson was killed after a police pursuit. Watson was identified as the suspect who shot and killed Zachery Freeman at a business on SE Foster Road the day prior.

While the number of fatal police shootings in 2023 hasn't changed since 2022, the number of shootings involving police decreased from 2022, when PPB reported nine people were shot at, four of which succumbed to their injuries.

City pays out 11 legal settlements against police

This year, the city paid out multiple settlements on behalf of the Portland Police Bureau, most of which were related to bodily injury claims from members of the public during the 2020 protests. Records show the city paid out at least $1.1 million in settlement money across 11 bodily injury lawsuits in 2023.

Those payouts were separate from a major lawsuit settlement between the Portland Police Association and former City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who sued the police union over a 2021 false information campaign. Hardesty settled with the union for $680,000 in September.

Police oversight in limbo

This year also saw the Police Accountability Commission (PAC) wrap up two years of work to recommend a new framework for investigating instances of police misconduct. The work was the result of a 2020 voter-approved ballot measure for a new police oversight system.

While the Portland City Council voted to accept the PAC’s recommendations, they did so with misgivings. Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioners Rene Gonzalez and Dan Ryan all voiced concern about the city’s new police oversight board prohibiting families of current or former cops from serving on the board. Work is already underway by city attorneys to change substantial elements of what the PAC brought to city leaders.

Former PAC members say the city is not only trying to water down key elements of the police oversight measure, they allege the changes being sought will limit the scope of the new board and muddy the waters of an already murky, confusing system of volunteer and internal review groups.

Before any city code changes can be adopted, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) will need to approve them, due to a longstanding settlement agreement the DOJ has with the city over its police force.

The new changes will also need to be negotiated with the Portland Police Association (PPA), the union representing rank-and-file officers. Union agreement might be the biggest hangup.

Already, the PPA has paid a research firm for a poll asking Portlanders how they feel about city leadership and the new police oversight system. The poll, which included 500 participants and reported a majority of them would leave the city if they could, is now being used as a tool to cast doubt on the oversight measure. 

The return of traffic cops

This spring, PPB leaders announced that for the first time since all but disbanding the division in 2021, Portland’s traffic police would be partially reinstated

The reasoning, PPB said, was community feedback and concerns over an increase in fatal crashes and the seeming absence of officers to enforce basic traffic safety laws. 

During the pandemic years when PPB backed off its traffic division, the city also saw a spike in illegal street racing.

The reinstatement was met with mixed reactions. Some residents welcomed the idea of more traffic police to deter reckless drivers, but others note an undeniable element of racial bias in policing. Non-white drivers are more likely to be targeted and pulled over by traffic officers and in some cases, mistaken for suspects, which has led to deadly outcomes.

Smile! You’re on body camera.

In a move that was years in the making, 2023 was the year that PPB finally got on board with body cameras. Just this month, the Portland City Council approved spending up to $10 million for the purchase of body cameras to be worn by police.

Police are expected to be fully equipped with cameras by late summer or early fall 2024.

The implementation came after drawn-out union negotiations over whether officers should be allowed to review body camera footage before writing incident reports. Ultimately, the city and police union agreed that major use of force incidents will require officers and witnesses to give their account of the events before reviewing footage. 

It’s worth mentioning that the city’s lucrative contract with Axon came after what some critics called a murky bidding process. Axon has also been criticized for a habit of phasing out its camera and weapons technology, forcing government agencies to replace items at hefty prices. Axon is the same company that supplies the police with tasers.

Also worth noting: Axon was the only body camera company that lobbied the city, years ago. In fact, Axon may have helped the city frame its policies around body cameras. Lobbying records show the company provided sample policies from other jurisdictions, as Portland was in the early stages of drafting its own policy language.