PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland has seen the highest number of traffic fatalities this year than in the past 30 years. The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) gave the update during a news conference Tuesday morning.
Sergeant Ty Engstrom is PPB's only full-time traffic officer. He said there have been 62 fatal crashes on Portland roadways since the start of 2021. That's compared to 58 crash fatalities in 2020, which was the highest number the city had seen since 1996 with 59.
"Each of these 62 fatalities, we've had to go and talk to family members, to witnesses, to people that are greatly impacted by these crashes," Engstrom said. "It takes its toll on our officers as well to see this kind of death on a regular basis."
According to Engstrom, of the 62 fatal crashes this year, 26 pedestrians died. That marks a 49-year high for pedestrian fatalities, with 30 pedestrians killed in 1972.
Engstrom said it isn't a coincidence that Portland is seeing so many fatalities as the police department continues to face a staffing shortage.
"It's hard to ignore the fact that we have a huge number — record-setting number — of fatalities and we have very, very low numbers of police officers patrolling our streets," he said.
Engstrom started with PPB's Traffic Division in 2008. He said, at that time, there were 35 motorcycle officers and between 8-12 patrol vehicle officers with the division.
"At the beginning of 2021, staffing levels in the Portland Police Bureau were so low that they had to dismantle almost the entire traffic division," he said.
Engstrom said it's up to both drivers and pedestrians to be aware of their surroundings and make sure they're visible to others on the road.
"Our plea to the community is to please drive safely, walk safely and share the roads appropriately," Engstrom said.
City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty oversees the Portland Bureau of Transportation. In a statement, she said in part, "As we saw traffic fatalities rising earlier this year, I introduced and passed an emergency budget amendment that allocated $450k in rapid safety improvements on our highest crash corridors."
The commissioner went on to say the completed projects include 20 high crash intersection warning signs installed in high crash areas, as well as pedestrian head starts that give pedestrians the walk signal several seconds before drivers get a green light and left-turn calming that improves left-turning drivers' view of the crosswalk at intersections.