Portland police officers shortage, budget cuts grapple with violence as violence comes
The number of homicides in Portland has now surpassed its previous annual record of 66, set in 1987 – and there are still more than two months left in the calendar year.
As of Tuesday, Oregon’s largest city has recorded 67 homicides so far this year, three-quarters of those by firearms, according to the Associated Press. The total number of shots fired – about 1,000 – has also injured an additional 314 people.
“People should be careful because this is a dangerous time,” Lionel Irving Jr., a lifelong resident of Portland and a gang outreach activist, told the AP.
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The killings come as Portland’s police department is grappling with a severe staff shortage and budget cuts.
The Pacific Northwest city is now implementing new solutions aimed at improving safety, including adding traffic barrels to prevent drive-by shootings and suspending minor traffic stops so officers can focus on immediate threats.
Police say many of the shootings are linked to gangs, fighting and retaliatory killings, but they are also affecting onlookers.
Nine-year-old Hadar Kedem recently told city leaders about an alarming close call when she was caught in gunfire earlier this year.
Haider was playing with his father, brother and dog in Northeast Portland Park when a group of people wearing ski masks started shooting. Hadr and his family dove to hide behind a metal tool bin. One bullet hit the fourth grade student’s leg.
“I know that not only do I want change, but everyone wants change,” Hader said during a city council meeting last month. “I want to feel safe.”
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Nationally, homicides increased by about 30% from 2019 to 2020, based on FBI data. However, according to the Associated Press, fatal violence is rising faster in Portland than in nearly all major cities, with homicides increasing by 83% in 2020.
Portland has seen more homicides in 2021 than some major cities, including San Francisco, and twice as many homicides as its larger Pacific Northwest neighbor, Seattle. Other hard-hit western cities include the Albuquerque, New Mexico, metro area, which has about 679,000 residents and has seen a record 97 murders this year.
The Portland Police have struggled to suppress the violence, with the bureau’s 128 officers falling short of the authorized strength. About 200 officers have left the department since August 2020. Many, in their exit interviews, cited low morale, a lack of support from city officials, and burnout from months of racial justice protests, which often ended in a plethora of tear gas and confrontations, but largely since last summer. Till has died.
“We’re running up in smoke. There’s no way to fully and accurately investigate all these shootings,” said Daryl Turner, executive director of the Portland Police Association.
Turner says the city will need to employ 840 officers over the next five years to implement proper community policing and keep Portland safe.
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In addition to staffing, Turner said the increase in violence is directly related to budget cuts.
Amid increasingly growing calls to defund police, city leaders last year slashed $27 million from the police budget – $11 million due to the budget crisis caused by the pandemic – a decision that Turner says has cost lives. .
Authorities also disbanded a special unit focused on curbing gun violence, which has long faced criticism for targeting people of color.
Earlier this month, additional traffic barrels were planted in a southeast Portland neighborhood that was plagued by shootings—some of which were linked to high-speed drivers. City Commissioner Joe Ann Hardesty said the hope is that the traffic changes will slow down activity at gun violence hot spots and make it harder to “both commit a crime and get away with”.
“It’s a one-on-one situation where the government needs to dig deep, think creatively,” Hardesty said. “From the police to community-based organizations to infrastructure design – we all have a role to play in this emergency.”
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In addition, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced in June that officials were no longer being directed to stop drivers for low-level traffic violations.
Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell said this was in response to data showing a disproportionate effect on black drivers, but also because the city doesn’t have enough officers.
Increasing violence and pleas for cities to do more have forced some areas to restock funds from funding police departments to them.
In major cities across the country, parts of the police budget are being reinstated. From Los Angeles to New York, some law enforcement departments cut massive budgets, local leaders reinstated funding or implemented new programs or units amid nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd last year.
In Portland, there is a general fund additional balance of $60 million available for public safety.
The city council can use half the money, which came from business taxes last year and much more than expected, however it wants. Whether a significant portion will go to the police bureau is yet to be determined.