Diverging From a Policy Set in March, Portland Police Will Continue Booking Misdemeanor Arrests in Jail as COVID Cases Spike

“We are [only] taking felonies and mandatory arrests to jail,” then-Chief Jami Resch said in March as the first wave of COVID-19 hit the state.

Portland police making arrests on Nov. 4, 2020. (Chris Nesseth)

The Portland Police Bureau says it plans to continue booking people in jail for committing misdemeanors, even as COVID-19 cases skyrocket and some businesses throughout Multnomah County prepare to close for at least four weeks following orders from Gov. Kate Brown.

That's divergent from a "cite in lieu" policy established in March, under then-Chief Jami Resch, when the Police Bureau pledged to issue criminal citations to people suspected of committing misdemeanors instead of taking them to jail.

"We have reduced the folks we are taking to jail," Resch said during a March press conference. "We are [only] taking felonies and mandatory arrests to jail."

The policy was enacted as Brown ordered Oregonians to stay home to curb COVID-19's spread in the spring. It applied to most misdemeanor crimes—excluding "mandatory" arrests for sex crimes, domestic violence crimes and violent person crimes—when police can accurately identify the suspect.

A Police Bureau spokesman says he is unsure when the agency began booking misdemeanor arrests again, though it appears police began issuing misdemeanor citations more frequently once racial justice protests began in late May.

Since then, local law enforcement agencies, including PPB, have booked hundreds of protesters in jail for misdemeanor charges like interfering with a peace officer and disorderly conduct.

"Portland police officers have been booking misdemeanor arrests for quite some time," says bureau spokesman Lt. Greg Pashley, who noted that PPB officers have always had "discretion" to book misdemeanor arrestees in jail, even under Resch's directive.

"In certain circumstances," Pashley said, "officers may issue criminal citations, but may also book people for misdemeanors. So far, there is no plan to change how we book people in light of COVID."

Currently, over 700 people are booked in the Multnomah County Jail in downtown Portland, jail records show.

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