PPB officer numbers continue to drop. Here’s why some say they’re leaving

Special Reports

One officer said he would rather work nights and weekends and take a 20% pay cut than stay at PPB

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Exiting Portland Police Bureau officers say they’re sick of community members insulting them, tired of the city council’s lack of support, and exhausted from excessive hours. 

Those are just some of the reasons officers gave for their decisions to leave the bureau during the first six months of 2021. 

“I lost complete faith, trust and respect for the leadership of the city and for the first time in my life hated the job I worked so hard to get,” a white, male officer under age 30 said in an exit interview. 

He said his passion for working in Portland was gone. 

Staff who leave the bureau are given the option to voluntarily complete exit interview paperwork. In seven documents completed between January and June of 2021, which were recently released to KOIN 6 News, PPB staff expressed a variety of reasons for leaving their positions. Complaints about Mayor Ted Wheeler, the city council, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, and general disrespect from the public were mentioned repeatedly. 

“Mult. Co. elected officials have failed at their primary duty: to keep the citizens safe,” one officer stated. 

Officers names were not included in the document and their length of employment with the bureau was redacted. 

“I would rather work nights/weekends/holidays again, reset my seniority and vacation accrual, take a 20% pay cut, and leave some very close relationships for a healthier work environment.”

Several officers implied they had accepted jobs at other law enforcement agencies. One officer, a white man between the ages of 40 and 49, said he accepted a job with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. 

He said the job opportunity was attractive because it will allow him to “be proactive, without fear of retribution from my employer, elected officials, or an over-zealous D.A. who is actively seeking to prosecute officers.” 

Another officer, who said he’d invested 14 years into the Portland community said, “I would rather work nights/weekends/holidays again, reset my seniority and vacation accrual, take a 20% pay cut, and leave some very close relationships for a healthier work environment and ability to do my job as it should be done.” 

Daryl Turner, executive director of the Portland Police Association, Portland’s police union, said the bureau is losing about five to seven people a month due to retirements or resignations. Between June 23, 2021 and Oct. 5, 2021, Portland Police Bureau lost 16 officers. 

Turner said officers feel vilified, demonized and chastised in Portland. He said they lack support from elected officials and many feel the mayor, who’s also the city’s police commissioner, turned his back on them when he stood among demonstrators in July 2020.

“Our police commissioner stood on the other side of the lines facing police officers as bottles, rocks, human feces, all kinds of objects, incendiary devices as well, were thrown to police officers. The police commissioner was standing on the other side of the lines,” Turner said. 

In the exit interviews, officers also said they were tired of the bureau being under-staffed and of having to work so many hours. 

Turner said the only way Portland Police Bureau will be able to fill the void it’s experiencing from employees retiring and resigning is if it receives more funding. He said adding to the budget is one way to ensure PPB can keep the officers it still has left. 

He also said establishing a retire/rehire program will be the fastest way PPB can fill its gaps. 

“There is no other way to reset the Police Bureau as fast as we need to. The retire, re-hirees would come back, they’d have a two-week period of catching up on their training. They’d be able to go back out on the streets and work the same areas,” Turner said. 

The retire-rehire program is something Portland Police Bureau previously offered, which allowed retired employees to come back to their jobs. In a statement PPB sent to KOIN 6 News, a bureau spokesperson said it is working with the mayor’s office on developing a retire/rehire program that would allow some people considering retirement to remain at the bureau. 

In response to the exit interviews, PPB stated, “Employee retention is always a priority, but it is challenging, given that people make the decision to leave for different reasons. We continue to support officers and let them know their wellness is a top priority.” 

KOIN 6 News asked District Attorney Mike Schmidt to respond to accusations in the exit interviews that he was not prosecuting criminals, but Schmidt’s office did not reply before the deadline. 

In a statement responding to the exit interview accusations against himself, Mayor Wheeler said, “I deeply appreciate the commitment that our police officers bring to their work each and every day and I value their dedication. This is a time of change and transformation, not just here in Portland, but around the world. During this time it’s important to acknowledge that we need change that benefits all of our community members, and we also need change that supports our police officers who put their lives on the line every day to help keep the peace in our community.” 

Of the exit interviews KOIN News received, four were from officers, one was from a detective, one was from an identification technician, and another was from a public safety aide from the sex crimes unit. 

The identification technician said she was retiring and the public safety aide said she was leaving for a job with full-time pay and benefits. 

Mayor Ted Wheeler’s full statement: 

I deeply appreciate the commitment that our police officers bring to their work each and every day and I value their dedication. This is a time of change and transformation, not just here in Portland, but around the world. During this time it’s important to acknowledge that we need change that benefits all of our community members, and we also need change that supports our police officers who put their lives on the line every day to help keep the peace in our community. 

I have previously stated that public safety remains a key priority for my administration, which requires that we take a holistic approach in identifying, assessing, and addressing issues that threaten the safety and wellbeing of Portlanders. This work is focused on three areas: Refocus, Reform and Restaff. First, we are working to review current call assignments so we can align appropriate resources. Second, we need the police bureau to be accountable to the public that it serves – and that means increased transparency and training. Third, the police bureau must have the adequate personnel, resources, and tools required to effectively respond to criminal activity in Portland. I am working with police bureau leadership to ensure we accomplish these objectives, and we are working on all three of them simultaneously, but it will take time.

It has been a challenging 18 months for police officers everywhere, but especially here in Portland. I am grateful for the service of all of our dedicated officers.

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