Kotek directs Oregon State Police to crack down on fentanyl, shares few details

Oregon State Police will do more to crack down on fentanyl dealers under new direction from Gov. Tina Kotek, she announced Tuesday.

Kotek shared the orders Tuesday at a second private meeting of her Portland Central City Task Force, a group that began meeting behind closed doors last month to come up with a plan to address Portland’s myriad problems, including homelessness, public drug use and a poor national reputation. She didn’t provide many details in a public news release announcing the new “strategic enforcement and disruption strategies” or in a post-meeting press conference.

“It’s about taking action right now and not waiting,” she said. “There are criminal elements who have poisoned our city with the distribution of fentanyl.”

Kotek said the new direction isn’t about putting more uniformed beat officers on the streets – Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler last month asked the state to assign 96 Oregon State Police officers to bolster the city’s police bureau. Instead, she expects Oregon State Police detectives to lend their expertise and the state police to help the city and Multnomah County work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to bring federal charges. 

State police are already doing some of that work, she said, but she expects the agency to act with more urgency and focus more on seizing drugs and going after dealers. So far this year, Oregon State Police has seized 62 pounds of powder and 232,962 fentanyl pills, according to the governor’s office. 

“We’re going to see where we can pull focus off of other jobs to focus on this, because I also believe that if we can send a message to dealers here in the Portland area, it will also benefit the rest of the state,” Kotek said. 

Her directions to the agency include:

  • Reallocating staff to local and regional drug enforcement teams.
  • Leading interagency saturation patrols, or increased numbers of police officers in certain areas at certain times. 
  • Partnering with the Department of Justice to make sure law enforcement officers have training to avoid unlawful searches and biased policing. 
  • Continuing a program that started this summer that uses data to identify people driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The task force and its community safety committee, led by Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Portland, plan to recommend that the Legislature pass bills making it illegal to use hard drugs in public. Lieber and others also want to address recent Oregon Supreme Court decisions that have made it hard to prosecute drug dealers, including the 2021 State v. Hubbell. In that case, the court ruled that simply possessing large quantities of illegal drugs isn’t enough to prove the owner intends to sell those drugs. 

The task force will present its recommendations at the December Oregon Business Plan Summit, not to the Legislature. That allows it to avoid public meeting laws and keep private meetings of both the 47-member task force and five subcommittees comprising more than 120 people.

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.