Portland Police Will Not Take Misdemeanor Arrests to Jail During the COVID-19 Outbreak, to Avoid Overcrowding

Instead, misdemeanor arrestees will be given a citation, similar to a parking ticket.

Southwest 2nd and Yamhill streets on March 20, 2020. (Rocky Burnside)

The Portland Police Bureau will hand out citations for misdemeanors and not necessarily take suspects to jail, in an effort to reduce jail overcrowding amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Chief Jami Resch told reporters during a media conference call Friday afternoon.

"We have reduced the folks we are taking to jail," Resch said. "We are taking felonies and mandatory arrests to jail."

Resch said the decision to limit misdemeanor arrests was made in conjunction with the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, which addressed the reduction in arrests in a joint press release:

"Law enforcement officers—operating within the county—have been given additional discretion to reduce the strain on the criminal justice system," the press release said. "When appropriate, officers can elect to issue a citation requiring a person to appear in court at a later date. This does not apply to those arrested on more serious charges, such as domestic violence, sex crimes, and violent person crimes."

Police may still issue a "criminal citation" for misdemeanors, bureau spokeswoman Kristina Jones said during Friday's call. She said the criminal citation is similar to traffic citation, except for a crime rather than a violation (like a parking ticket).

"Instead of someone going to jail, if we're able to verify their identity…they would be given a court date and then that would be up to the district attorney's office as far as the follow-through," Jones said.

"Really, it's part of the efforts to mitigate the volume of folks who are currently in jail," Jones continued. "And, also, due to the staffing at the courts and with the district attorney, their ability to process those sorts of things."

To reduce the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus, Resch said, the bureau has also closed two of its three precincts—leaving the central precinct open to the public—discontinued staff roll calls, and minimized community meetings.

Portland police are still responding to all calls, she added. But officers may take steps to minimize their exposure to the virus, such as asking people to speak outside in open air rather than indoors.

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