First Responders

Portland Officials Pass Police Reforms But No Additional Police Funding

April 9, 2021Matt White
Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die

A protester held a’s Photo by Ethan E. Rocke

As a surge in street violence and a record-breaking numbers of killings continue in Portland, Oregon, the Portland City Council voted Wednesday to approve a sweeping list of public-safety and police reforms.

The measure does not restore any of the $15 million the council cut from the Portland Police Bureau last summer. 

The package includes over $4 million for local community groups, hires two dozen unarmed park rangers who will patrol city parks 24 hours a day and approves a reshuffling of some police assignments to address gun violence.

Local politicians, from the mayor to City Council members to community groups, praised the move, which ended several weeks of negotiations over how the city would respond to the uptick in violent crime. Mayor Ted Wheeler had lobbied to up the police budget by $2 million, but City Council members said no additional funding would be provided for police.

Police in Portland, Oregon, respond to a protest Aug. 17, 2019. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

But with officers fleeing the city’s police force in the last year, it was unclear whether the deal would help or hurt morale in the department. The Oregonian published transcripts this week from exit interviews with retiring or quitting police officers who left the department after last summers protests and the budget cuts. Over 10% of the force has left in the last year, and the interviews paint a picture of a department rife with unhappiness.

“The community shows zero support. The city council are raging idiots, in addition to being stupid. Additionally, the mayor and council ignore actual facts on crime and policing in favor of radical leftist and anarchists fantasy,” one detective wrote in his exit interview.

On another exit form, where departing officers are asked about “Factors Affecting Your Departure,” with check boxes for items such as “Job Location” and “Retirement,” one cop simply wrote over the boxes: “Mayor Wheeler & Commissioners are a trainwreck.”

The disconnect between political leaders and the police is not a problem exclusive to Portland, but few major cities have embraced large-scale “police reform” — often under the monicker of “defund the police” — as deeply. The pressure in the city to take bites out of police authorities and budgets was high during a summer of protests, and June’s budget cut redirected much of the $15 million to nonpolice interventions championed by community activists.

Nationally, many view Portland’s experience as an experiment in police reform to be copied or, if it fails, avoided.

Portland was rocked by a summer of protests around police tactics and calls for reform. The Portland City Council cut $15 million from police budgets. Many activists had called for a cut of $50 million. Photo by Ethan E. Rocke/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Prior to Wednesday’s vote, perhaps only two central facts regarding Portland’s situation have been clear:

• In June, the city council voted 3-1 to cut $15 million from the Police Bureau’s requested budget, or about 6%, after public protests and intense lobbying from community groups. The drop set the department’s budget for 2020-2021 at just under $230 million, down from the $244.6 million the council and department agreed on before the summer’s protests. The move capped a summer of protests over police tactics. Some protesters demanded a $50 million cut, though even pro-reform city council members dismissed that number. The cut included the elimination of several units in the department, including the Gun Violence Reduction Team, which community groups said had a history of targeting and unnecessarily killing Black people.

• Since the cut, gun and violent crime has steadily increased in the city to levels beyond any ever seen in Portland. Police said this week that the city has seen 288 shootings in 2021, injuring 92 people. In all, the city has recorded 25 homicides, 18 of which involved firearms (a police spokesperson told Coffee Or Die Magazine that those numbers are current, but include some April data that may be revised). If that pace continues, the city could see 100 killings in all of 2021 — nearly double 2020’s total of 55, which was the highest number in over two decades.

Though those two events – the budget cut and the rise in crime – are not contested, the connection between them, if any, is less clear. Pandemic lockdowns fueled spikes in crime across the country in 2020, and early numbers in 2021 show continued upticks as lockdowns lift. How much of Portland’s crime spikes is due to police cuts and how much is due to larger social trends remains unclear.

The reforms passed Wednesday will add a dozen full-time park rangers to the city’s parks. They will patrol mostly on foot, 24 hours a day, engaging with the public and enforcing rules but with little law enforcement training and no ability to arrest. The bill also moves more than $4 million to three community organizations with histories of working with city offices to reduce gun and gang violence. The bill also moves close to a dozen officers in the police department into gun crime investigation, pulling them from units focused on assault and theft.

Unaddressed for now is the Portland Police Bureau’s manpower shortage. Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said Wednesday that the department had an 11% vacancy rate for sworn officers, with 98 unfilled positions. And that may get worse, Lovell said. Six officers are resigning in April, he said, and 88 will be eligible to retire by the middle of 2022. Portland’s police has slots for 900 officers.

Matt White
Matt White

Matt White is a former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
US Speeds Up Abrams Tank Delivery to Ukraine War Zone

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or ...

March 21, 2023Associated Press
Coffee Or Die Photo
US: War Crimes on All Sides in Ethiopia's Tigray Conflict

The Biden administration announced Monday that it has determined all sides in the brutal conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

March 20, 2023Associated Press
military pilots cancer rates
Higher Cancer Rates Found in Military Pilots, Ground Crews

In its yearlong study of almost 900,000 service members who flew on or worked on military aircraft b...

March 20, 2023Associated Press
whiskey pour
Veterans Lead the Way Among America’s Growing Craft Distilleries

American veterans are taking the lessons they learned in the military and changing the craft distilling industry.

March 20, 2023Mac Caltrider
military suicide veteran suicide
Military Moves To Cut Suicides, But Defers Action on Guns

In a memo released Thursday, Austin called for the establishment of a suicide prevention working gro...

March 17, 2023Associated Press
us military drills japan-south korea
US, Partners Stage Military Drills Amid Japan-South Korea Talks

The Sea Dragon 23 exercises that started on Wednesday will culminate in more than 270 hours of in-fl...

March 17, 2023Associated Press
leo jenkins a word like god
‘A Word Like God’: New Book From Army Ranger Leo Jenkins

In his latest poetry collection, Ranger-turned-writer Leo Jenkins turns away from war to explore cosmic themes of faith, fatherhood, and art.

March 16, 2023Mac Caltrider
us drone
Pentagon Video Shows Russian Jet Dumping Fuel on US Drone

The Pentagon on Thursday released video of what it said was a Russian fighter jet dumping fuel on a ...

March 16, 2023Associated Press
  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved