PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — As shootings continue to surge in Portland, many residents are likely confused about what the City Council is doing to stop them. The Portland Police Bureau is the only agency whose funding is significantly cut in the budget for the next fiscal year that the council is scheduled to consider on Wednesday, June 9, and adopt the following Thursday.
But Mayor Ted Wheeler has said that Portlanders will not see fewer officers on their streets after it takes effect on July 1, even though it has been widely reported that an unprecedented number of the existing ones are resigning or retiring early. That includes 22 in January and several more in the following months. And about 23 additional officers have applied for jobs at other agencies, according to the bureau.
Although the upcoming budget includes $5.264 million to hire 30 more officers, it takes 18 months to train them before they can begin working.
The current bureau budget includes 916 authorized positions, of which only 814 are filled. There are 630 authorized officer-rank positions, of which only 560 are filled. The next budget is not expected to be significantly different.
But Portland budget officials say the council and bureau have taken numerous steps to increase patrol levels while preparing to offset those officers that are leaving. The council has also funded a multi-pronged effort to prevent future shootings. It includes supporting community-based organizations that counsel victims and their families, funding more outreach workers that work to prevent retaliatory violence, and creating a new uniformed unit within the bureau advised by a citizen group to prevent racial profiling.
These efforts have not come without a price, however. The fiscal year 2021-2022 bureau budget is $3 million less than the current one. To increase patrol levels, the bureau underwent a reorganization several months ago that reduced staffing of specialty units and moved those officers to patrol.
Among the changes already made, 20 traffic officers, nine K9 officers, seven narcotics and organized crime officers, five public information and community engagement officers, and one behavioral health officer have all been shifted to patrol duties. That helped increase the number of patrol officers from 290 to 360 by last February.
There are also a number of probationary officers that are expected to finish their training and be available to take calls during the first half of the next fiscal year. The bureau also expects to triple the number of unarmed Community Service Officers who can be hired more quickly to reduce the workload on armed officers.
All of this is expected to allow the bureau to maintain patrol levels during the coming fiscal year. Then, when the future resignations and retirements are expected to create personnel shortages in the following 2022-2023 fiscal year, the 30 new officers will be available to fill in halfway through it.
Meanwhile, the council has authorized the bureau to create a uniformed Focused Intervention Team of 12 officers and two sergeants to investigate and hopefully, head off shootings. Such work had previously been done by the Gun Violence Reduction Team, but the council abolished it during social justice protests in 2020 because it had repeatedly been accused of racial profiling.
A recently-appointed Community Oversight Group is expected to analyze and track the new team’s stops and arrests. As first reported by The Oregonian, few officers have volunteered for it so far, however.