My View: Police reforms need a more reasoned approach by everyone
One of the primary responsibilities of government at any level is to provide a safe environment for its population. In the past year, our city has reduced the Portland Police Bureau budget by $27 million and is seeking a 5% reduction across all bureaus in the next fiscal year, including the police.
Police Chief Chuck Lovell has requested that the bureau budget be cut by only 1% to allow for the filling of more than 100 vacancies. Reducing the police bureau budget by 5% at this time is inadvisable, and City Council should heed that request.
In a successful effort by the previous City Council to "defund" the police, programs such as the Gun Violence Reduction Team have been eliminated. Reported shootings more than doubled from 393 in 2019 to 893 in 2020. Homicides increased from 34 in 2019 to 55 in 2020 — the highest level in over a quarter century. Already this year, as reported in the Oregonian, there have been 105 shootings and six related gun-related killings as of Feb. 4.
Faced with these increases in gun violence, Mayor Ted Wheeler has been talking about bringing back a team to respond to shootings, hinting at a troubling pattern of eliminating specialty programs to cut costs rather than carefully examining and improving them. Vandalism and other property crime is spreading from downtown to other areas of the city, personal assaults and burglaries are on the rise and graffiti is everywhere, all while the programs and units dedicated to investigating and preventing these crimes have been severely reduced or no longer exist.
Perhaps even more alarming is the mounting number of resignations and upcoming retirements among our most experienced and respected officers. As also reported in The Oregonian, "From July 1 through Feb. 3, 110 officers have left, including 73 who retired and 37 who resigned."
It is not hard to draw a line from these vacancies directly to an average response time that has grown to over 10 minutes for our highest priority calls — twice what City Council set as its goal. Proactive, community-based public safety programs were eliminated under the former City Council. People do not feel comfortable walking on what were once our beautiful streets. Our downtown is a mess. Businesses are fleeing. We are a city in dire straits.
As we enter budget season, we cannot afford to further reduce our police bureau funding by 5% as some wish to do. This approach will lead to a reduction in the number of sworn police officers without providing resources for the oversight, training, recruitment and community-driven programs necessary to address systemic bias. But it will take time and it will take more resources, not less.
We wholeheartedly support the creation and rapid deployment of Portland Street Response and embrace our Public Safety Support Specialist program, but we cannot allow any further reduction in sworn police officers. Portland has the lowest number of officers per 10,000 population as compared to other cities with similar populations.
We must all work together with a reasoned and deliberate approach towards police reform measures with all parties having a seat at the table. These efforts will not be fast or easy. In the meantime, we cannot afford to further reduce our Police Bureau budget.
Stan Penkin, Kim Silverman, Tiffany Hammer, Bob Davis, Vadim Mozyrsky and Alex Stone are members of Portland's Public Safety Action Coalition. https://www.pdxpsac.org
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