PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Charlie Hales’ budget proposals fell short as the city council rejected tax increases on local businesses to pay for things like an increased police force and more homeless services.
Hales’ proposed budget included $3 million for police staffing, $1.7 million for body cameras and $3.5 million for homeless initiatives. The key, costly plans were vehemently denied by city hall.
“We’ve got to up our game,” Hales told KOIN 6 News. “In order to pay for all of those things… other good things in the budget, it’s necessary to increase our revenue.”
Hales says he remembers when Portland was considered a small town. While it’s still got a big-small town feel, the city is facing some serious issues like low police staffing.
In the first 4 months of 2016, nearly 30 officers from the Portland Police Bureau retired or resigned to go work for other agencies, according to the police union.
Officer Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, says 23 officers have recently retired and 6 have sought employment outside the bureau.
Turner calls current staffing levels at the bureau “catastrophic.”
“We are now in a position where gang violence is up from last year,” Turner said. “And last year was a record year by far.”
As of May 10, the bureau had an authorized staffing level of 948 officers, Sgt. Pete Simpson said. That number includes every sworn member from the chief down to the police bureau’s newest recruits, Turner explained.
“These are the lowest staffing levels we’ve had since before 1993 and probably well into the ’80s,” Turner said.
In 1993, PPB’s authorized staffing level was 953, data provided by PPA shows. Turner says there are only about 335 patrol officers on the street taking calls for service.
Turner says an adequate budget that supports an increase in the police force is vital.
“We need those commissioners to be able to prioritize the budget, prioritize it to where we can provide those services because we’re going to lose officers,” he said.
For the time being, PPA suggests placing more importance on retention rather than actual hiring. Turner’s data shows the bureau hired 5 new officers in January and 4 in March. There is an 18-month probationary training period for each new officer assigned to PPB.
He added that PPB is losing about 87 officers per year and only hiring 27.
“By 2018, with the amount of officers that we’re hiring right now, which it takes an 18-month period to get them fully established as an officer, off probation, even lateral officers, we’re looking at 162 officers deficit from today,” Turner said.
Other police departments in Seattle, Vancouver and Kennewich are recruiting Portland’s officers. Turner says that’s because PPB officers have the best training.
But it’s up to the city council to invest in the bureau and, in turn, the community.
Turner says cutting bureau funds would drastically reduce its ability to respond to calls for service, investigate and solve crimes. Gang violence would also keep rising.
“To date, we are up 16 gang related shooting this year compared to last year at this time,” Turner wrote in a memo to PPA members.
He says cuts to the budget would also limit the bureau’s ability to aid those with mental illnesses and those suffering mental health crises.
“Our city commissioners have to understand that we need this budget,” Turner said.
The city council will finalize a budget on Wednesday.