PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler wants to hire 300 more police officers and offer a $25,000 sign-on bonus to some recruits as the city continues to battle a wave of gun violence.
The announcement, which was made during a press conference on Wednesday, comes weeks after Portland surpassed 1,000 shootings in 2021 alone.
“This is the deadliest era of modern times for the city of Portland,” Wheeler said. “As of 2021, we have surpassed a historical threshold with 72 homicides.”
Wheeler, who described the violence as a result of 2021’s economic hardships, gang-related crime, and mental health crises, said it has affected the entire community.
“Many Portlanders no longer feel safe in their city,” he said. “Business owners have closed up shop for fear of doing business in high-risk areas. Commuters fear for their safety whether taking public transit or going by foot. Parents are scared to let their children play outside.”
Starting in the fiscal year 2023, Wheeler said he wants to increase PPB’s numbers by 300 over the next three years, 200 of whom would be armed police officers. The remaining 100 would be unarmed community safety specialists, or PS3.
A finalized list of the Portland Police Bureau’s community oversight group, named the Focused Intervention Team, also could come as soon as the end of November, he said.
Wheeler announced he intended to devote $2.65 million to equip every Portland police officer with body cameras, describing it as a “necessary component of modern policing to increase transparency and accountability.”
The increase in gun violence comes at a time when officials have said PPB is “critically understaffed.” Now, Wheeler and other city leaders said they aim to address the violence by beefing up police numbers.
“It’s the fact that, number one, our police department is understaffed for a city our size,” Commissioner Mingus Mapps told KOIN 6 News. “My goal is to add about 300 new officers to the Portland Police Bureau. That’ll get us up to the 1100-1200 level, which is enough to provide full coverage 24/7.”
Wheeler sees Mapps as an ally in the effort to expand PPB.
“It’s not just me talking anymore,” he said “There seems to be sufficient support from city council to hire more officers.”
To attract more officers to the force, Wheeler announced Wednesday that he will propose $25,000 signing bonuses to the first 50 officers who are qualified or PS3 recruits.
He also wants to add longevity bonuses to improve retention within PPB.
A grim milestone
On Oct. 11, the Portland Police Bureau told KOIN 6 the city had set a grim milestone: 67 homicides in 2021, a new record. Of those, 51 were the by shootings, PPB said.
Portland’s previous record-high number of homicides, not counting deadly officer-involved shootings, was 66 in 1987.
Less than one week later, the city surpassed 1,000 shootings for the year.
Police Chief Chuck Lovell called it a “terrible problem” and said he’s happy to work with police partners on addressing the number of shootings. He also asked community members to come forward with any information on crimes.
“Too many have prematurely ended lives and caused injury. But all shootings cause trauma to our community,” Lovell wrote in a tweet.
KOIN 6 news partner The Portland Tribune reported the city council will meet Thursday to discuss increasing spending on the city’s police force, among other issues such as homelessness.
The work session will include discussions on how to spend the city’s $31 million in surplus funds. It is set to take place at 2 p.m. and will be streamed on the city’s website.
This article will be updated with more information.