Judge orders Portland to release list of personnel numbers assigned to police officers
Officers had obscured their names and badge numbers while responding to protests citing safety and privacy concerns
By Jack Forrest
PORTLAND, Ore. — The city of Portland must release the names of Portland police officers and the corresponding personnel numbers they used to obscure their identities during 2020 protests, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge ruled Nov. 10.
Portland police officers began concealing their names and badge numbers in June 2020 while responding to protests, citing worries over officers’ privacy and safety.
Many officers instead wore tape with six-digit personnel numbers, but some officers on the Portland Police Bureau’s now-disbanded Rapid Response Team wore different one or two-digit numbers specific to their team, according to court documents.
Demonstrators used those numbers to identify officers they felt were using unnecessary force, but were unable to determine the names of those officers.
Alan Kessler, a lawyer and political activist, filed a lawsuit against the city in February after his public records request for a list of officer names and their correlating one or two-digit numbers was denied.
Officials denied the request because they believed Kessler was asking for the six-digit numbers, which they argued were exempt from Oregon’s public records law. Officials said the personnel numbers were connected to officers’ personal and confidential information.
Multnomah County Circuit Judge Pro Tempore Terence Thatcher wrote in a scathing decision last month that records officials should have understood Kessler was looking for the names of officers wearing single or two-digit numbers — not the personnel numbers.
On Nov. 10, though, Thatcher ruled that the city must give up the personnel numbers as well, as they do not pose a security risk to Portland police officers. In the new ruling, Thatcher wrote that the personal information linked to the personnel numbers is protected in a secure governmental database that cannot be easily breached.
The Willamette Week was to first to report about the new ruling.
“It is hard to see how release of numbers used mainly in a secure computer system inaccessible to the public could constitute an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy,” Thatcher wrote in the ruling. “Except for their use during the protests, the numbers are essentially meaningless when removed from the system in which they are primarily used.”
Kessler, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit, said he believes the city allowed officers to wear personnel numbers instead of their names because officials believed that would make the name of officers exempt from records requests.
“We shouldn’t have a secret police,” Kessler told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “That’s something I think most people will agree is bad. And it shouldn’t take a lawsuit and 16 months to get the city to tell us who the officers are who are committing heinous acts.”
Federal officials have scrutinized the actions of Portland police during last year’s protests.
U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez in March ordered police to investigate allegations of misconduct by Brent Taylor — who fired less-lethal munitions during a June 30, 2020, protest in North Portland — and remove him from crowd control events pending the outcome of the inquiry.
In April, the U.S. Justice Department said Portland was in non-compliance with a previous order to enact police reform. Federal lawyers cited inappropriate police use and management of force during protests last year, inadequate training, subpar police oversight and a failure to adequately share an annual Police Bureau report with the public as required.
District Attorney Mike Schmidt cleared two officers identified by their two-digit numbers of criminal wrongdoing in September and handed off the investigation into another to the Oregon Department of Justice.
The city of Portland has five business days from Thatcher’s order to come up with an agreement to release the names and associated personnel numbers of Portland police officers to Kessler. Kessler announced on Twitter that he will release that information to the public.
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