PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After a year of record-setting homicides, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is proposing no new positions for sworn-police officers, doubling down on non-armed personnel to respond to non-emergency calls and behavioral health problems.
The Mayor’s proposed budget documents show the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) requested 665 sworn police officer positions while the Mayor proposed 598, the same as the 2021-22 budget year.
Though Wheeler defends the allocation, saying it wasn’t from a lack of trying.
“It’s definitely a tougher sell here,” Wheeler said, in response to a question about Portland’s image towards law enforcement.
Wheeler points out that hiring overall is a problem and hiring police officers specifically is difficult for several cities, as departments try to entice officers away from their current employers with better compensation.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we are critically understaffed and that’s why this budget includes money not only for recruiting. We obviously have vacancies to bring in more certified officers,” Wheeler said during a press conference Wednesday.
Wheeler says Portland has also increased its compensation to try and recruit officers from other jurisdictions as well.
Wheeler has stated his goal for adding 300 positions at PPB over the next three years, 200 sworn officers, and 100 civilian, nonsworn officers. The latter is the focus of the upcoming year’s budget.
In reallocating funding from PPB, Wheeler calls to nearly double the city’s non-emergency Public Safety Specialist team. He wants to add 32 positions to the team for a total of 70 ‘PS3s,’ as they are called.
PS3s can respond to non-emergency calls, take police reports, and do other non-emergency work to free up the time of sworn police officers.
“How do we utilize the demand side for the officers we have most effectively? Where they need to be utilized are high-acuity emergency, criminal activity that is happening right now,” Wheeler said.
As part of managing the demand, Wheeler wants to expand the non-emergency 311 line to 24 hours a day. It would cost $2.1 million, and clear an estimated 180,000 calls from the 911 line. Wheeler also proposed providing five more employees for the 911 call center over the next two years.
In another effort to expand a program Wheeler believes is working, while at the same time, taking demand off sworn officers, the Mayor proposes more than doubling the Portland Street Response Team—a team of people responding to help people with mental health and behavioral health crises.
Street Response, managed by the Portland Fire Bureau, would expand to a team of 56 under Wheeler’s proposal, from its current 22.
While the team can respond to numerous different calls, it is, in part, a piece of the Mayor’s response to homelessness which he says “is the number one issue. Full stop.”
The Mayor proposed spending a “record” amount to address homelessness in a two-fold approach. The first would be shelters and supportive housing, and the second would be affordable housing supply.
Here’s how the Wheeler proposes spending the money:
• $36.2 million for Streets to Stability, which includes funding for six Safe Rest Villages and two Creating Conscious Communities with People Outside Villages for two years
• $32.8 million within the base budget to the Joint Office of Homelessness for FY 22-23
• $8.26 million for the Joint Office of Homeless Services Motel Shelter Strategy
• $7.5 million to continue priority services via the Joint Office of Homeless Services funded in prior years and the FY 2021-22 Fall BMP with one-time resources
• $1 million for the Streets Services Coordination Center operations
• $5.8 million for land banking for affordable housing,
• $5.2 million to preserve currently affordable housing units that are set to expire
• $3.5 million to the Broadway Corridor project to utilize for demolition work for site preparation for affordable housing
In the press conference, Wheeler was adamant that shelter to get people off of the street is the priority right now.
“You will not see me relent in getting people off the street as quickly and as humanely as possible,” he said, “For me, that has meant not only to talk about supportive housing, but I have been relentless in saying we need temporary shelter to get people out of dangerous and squalid conditions on the street.”