PPB: 2020 was challenging year

Multnomah County

The Portland Police Bureau will present its annual report to the City Council on Wednesday.

Portland police officers in Northwest Portland, Aug. 25, 2019. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Challenges to the Portland Police Bureau caused by COVID-19, civil unrest, staffing reductions and budget cuts are highlighted in the 2020 Annual Report to be presented to the City Council on Wednesday, Aug. 18.

“The events of 2020 were historical for many reasons and we believe that some of its effects will have both positive and negative impacts on the Bureau for years. On the positive side, we will see opportunities for reform and to build appropriate systems to assist those in need. On the negative side, we are seeing the effects of low staffing greatly impacting our ability to provide service to our community in the ways in which they continue to ask for,” Police Chief Chuck Lovell wrote in an opening letter to the report.

The report is required by the city’s civil rights settlement agreement with the U.S. Department Justice. It also notes that homicides increased 64% to 54 last year, with most killings committed by firearms. Aggravated assaults and increased 46%. Property crimes also increased, including arson (113%), burglary (30%), and motor vehicle theft (38%).

According to the report, the greatest challenge to the bureau early in the year was COVID-19, which required staffing changes — including some remote working — to minimize the spread of the virus among employees and the public during encounters.

“Without this quick overhaul of procedures, the Bureau could have had more staff contract COVID-19, possibly threatened the lives of its employees. If greater numbers of officers would have become sick or exposed, it would have impacted the Bureau’s ability to respond to emergency calls for service,” the report said.

That was followed by civil unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 28, 2020. It includes over 170 days and nights of protests that frequently led to violent confronts with the police, and between protesters and counter-protesters.

“The Bureau was challenged by a number of factors, including the number of events, the complexity of tactics used by participants and decreased staffing, which contributed to fatigue and increased call response times,” the report said.

According to the report, responding to so much unrest interfered with the ability of officer to document all use of force incidents in a timely manner. That eventually resulted in the bureau being declared out of full compliance with its settlement agreement.

In response to the unrest, the council cut the bureau’s budget, including disbanding the Gun Violence Reduction Team.

These factors contributed to an unprecedented number of officers leaving the bureau. According to the report, 55 officers retired and 29 resigned by the end of the year. That increased to 75 retirements and 52 resignations by May 2021.

“Staffing throughout the Bureau remains the number one challenge. Due to the restrictions related to the pandemic, the Bureau had more than 100 officers who hadn’t been trained or fully trained. This was combined with a large amount of retirements and a historic amount of resignations,” the report said.

According to the report, as of June 30 of this year, the bureau had 100 vacant positions, including 57 vacant officer positions. Only 650 of the 707 authorized officer positions were filled by then.

The full report can be found here.

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