You almost have to feel sorry for the city of Portland. The city is experiencing record levels of violent crime even as it struggles to maintain the lowest number of police officers it has had since the late 80s/early 90s when the population of of the city was much smaller than it is now.
Beleaguered Mayor Ted Wheeler, who jumped on board the defund the police bandwagon back in 2020, has been trying to address both problem for the past year and so far he has very little to show for it. When it comes to violent crime, the city set a record for the number of shootings in 2021 and is currently on pace to surpass that record by double digits in 2022.
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said for 2022, there have been an average of nearly 29 shootings per week in Portland.
If this trend continues, Chief Lovell says there will be a little over 1,500 shootings this year, which is a 14% increase compared to last year and a 266% increase from 2019.
At the same press conference where Chief Lovell made that announcement, the mayor was asked why his efforts to combat violent crime didn’t seem to be working. Mayor Wheeler rambled for a bit and then mentioned the elephant in the room.
“I’m determined to see gun violence reduced in our community and obviously that would happen much faster if we had more officers,” Wheeler said. Later in response to another question he added, “Portland has a critical shortage of law enforcement personnel right now. We are in a 28-year low on a per capita basis.”
In fact the police force is now down to 777 officers. No one is saying the words “defund the police” but that’s what this is about. That and another word Mayor Wheeler never wants to say, “Antifa.” Portland police spent months battling violent goons in the street and got nothing for it but more criticism and the threat of a class action lawsuit by the protesters. So let’s not forget that less than two years ago it certainly was not considered obvious that more officers would mean less crime. On the contrary, the consensus in the city and in many other parts of the nation, spurred by progressive activists and Black Lives Matter protesters, was that we could have less crime if we had fewer officers.
That’s why in June 2020 Mayor Wheeler announced he was cutting funds for school resource officers and also for the city’s Gun Violence Reduction Team, the very team assigned the task of taking guns off the streets and keeping shootings under control. Those funding cuts spurred resignations and retirements and also resulted in some layoffs as Chief Lovell explained, “In 2020 when we took a budget cut, we did everything we could to not layoff people but the handful of people we did layoff were from our personnel division and they were our background investigators.”
In other words, the people needed to make it possible to hire new officers were laid off. Only last Thursday, March 17, 2022, did the city hire 7 staffers to make it possible to once again start the hiring police officers. What have they been doing about the staffing crisis prior to last week?
In October 2021 Mayor Wheeler announced plans to rehire officers who’d retired. Rehiring those officers wouldn’t require background checks because they had already been checked and had worked for the city. But that effort was a complete failure. After reaching out to 81 former officers, exactly two expressed interest in returning to Portland and exactly zero actually returned. “At this point it hasn’t worked the way we would have hoped,” the Mayor admitted.
Meanwhile, Chief Lovell explained that another wave of retirements was coming this July. He said as many as 80 officers would be leaving the force which would reduce the number of officers close to 700 for a city of nearly 650,000 people.
And so the push is on now to hire new officers offering incentives like hiring bonuses and a 4-day work week.
To get people’s attention, PPB says they are offering hiring bonuses, including a competitive salary and retirement. PPB is also giving new hires opportunities for promotions within the Bureau and a more balanced lifestyle with a four-day work week.
Willamette Week reports the perks for Portland police officers will also include yoga training and meditation workshops.
Currently, bureau employees—sworn and non-sworn—are allotted one hour per workday for “individual wellness activities” to increase physical, mental, emotional, social and financial health.
In this proposal, $115,000 would be allocated to a coaching certification program whereby bureau staff could become certified trainers “in the areas of personal interest, such as meditation, fitness, nutrition, yoga, and personal finance,” according to budget documents. Once certified in a chosen area, the employee would become a “peer coach” who could offer “guidance and support” to colleagues based on that certification…
The one-time funding request also includes $660,000 for cardiac screenings, $100,000 for an in-house mental health care provider, $15,000 for a “wellness library,” and $25,000 for in-service training in subjects like sleep health and mediation practice.
But there’s a real chance all of this could backfire. Portland is offering retention bonuses and higher pay but that also means officers could retire now with higher pensions, something many of them may find appealing.
Retention bonuses and more pay for Portland police under their new contract with the city may turn out to encourage veteran officers to retire sooner instead of keeping them on the job.
Some officers who had planned to retire in a couple of years are talking about moving up their departures to this July or December 2023, so their pensions get a significant boost…
Officers with 25 years and nine months on the job would see their monthly pension calculation increase 4.3 % if they retired this July and rise 7 % if they retired in December 2023, due to new retention bonuses, cost of living adjustments and extra pay for required crisis intervention training, according to the police.
I certainly feel sorry for the residents who are stuck with the dangerous increase in violent crime but it’s hard to feel sorry for the city leaders like Mayor Wheeler who brought most of this on themselves. Had Wheeler rejected calls to defund the police and called out Antifa goons earlier, instead of dressing in black and joining the protests, his city might not be in the position it’s in now.