Portland Police Allowed to Cover Names at Protests

Before stepping down as Portland, Oregon police chief, Jami Resch authorized officers to cover their names with tape, an allowance protesters criticize for making it more difficult for citizens to file complaints.

Protests over police brutality and systemic racism began in Portland three weeks ago and demonstrators are calling for increased accountability among law enforcement. About a week into the demonstrations, Resch changed the department's policy to allow officers to hide their names with a piece of tape that displayed an assigned personnel number instead.

The decision, spokesperson Terri Wallo-Strauss told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), was made after officers had their personal information shared online. Wallo-Strauss didn't share any details of doxxing incidents, but said the safety of officers and their families is "paramount."

Newsweek reached out to the Portland Police Department but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Resch, who became police chief in January, resigned on June 8. She asked Chuck Lovell, an African-American lieutenant, to step into her role and said during a news conference that he is the "exact right person at the exact right moment."

"To say this was unexpected would be an understatement," Lovell said. "I'm humbled. I'm going to listen. I'm going to care about the community, and I'm looking forward to this journey."

Commander Erica Hurley informed the department of the name tag policy change in a memo two days before Resch resigned. Along with placing their personnel number over their name tag, the memo instructed officers to write their personnel number on a light colored tape on the back of their helmet.

portland police names covered protests
A Portland Police officer blocks the crossing of Naito Parkway during the Alt Right Rally at Tom McCall Waterfront Park on August 4, 2018, in Portland, Oregon. Officers responding to protests against police violence are permitted to cover their name tags with tape. Steve Dykes/Getty

Resch, who became police chief in January, resigned two days after the email about the change in policy was sent. She asked Chuck Lovell, an African-American lieutenant, to step into her role and said during a news conference that he is the "exact right person at the exact right moment."

"To say this was unexpected would be an understatement," Lovell said. "I'm humbled. I'm going to listen. I'm going to care about the community, and I'm looking forward to this journey."

Doxxing was an issue during the 2014 protests following the Missouri grand jury's decision to not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. An after-action report recommended that during large protests, officers wear personnel numbers instead of names, Portland Lieutenant Tina Jones told The Oregonian.

Protesters decried officers being allowed to cover their names, as the anonymity could grant them a form of immunity from their actions. Wallo-Strauss said those who want to file a complaint can bring the personnel number to the Independent Police Review, which is tasked with investigating misconduct allegations. Officers can be identified internally by their number, but agency director Ross Caldwell acknowledged hiding officers' names potentially made tracing a complaint back to an officer more difficult.

"It might not be as intuitive for someone to remember the number on somebody's head as opposed to just looking at their name tag and be like, 'Oh it's Officer Jones.'" he told OPB.

The rule change is in a trial period to determine if it creates new challenges, OPB reported. If it makes it harder to identify officers, Caldwell said the agency will tell the mayor and the police commissioner that they have to make a decision on the "two competing things that are concerning," referencing the ability to identify officers and the officers' safety.