A year after Portland cut funds to its police department amid defund the police protests, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced Wednesday he is seeking more than $5 million this fall for police investments, including hiring more officers and buying body-worn cameras.
"Many Portlanders no longer feel safe in their city," Wheeler said during a news conference Wednesday. "Business owners have closed up shop, for fear of doing business in high risk areas. Commuters fear for their safety, whether taking public transport or going by foot. Parents are scared to let their children play outside."
Portland has seen its most violent year, with a record number of 72 homicides, surpassing its previous full-year record of 66 in 1987. Nationally, homicides increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, based on FBI data. In Portland, deadly violence increased at a faster rate than nearly all major cities, with an 83% increase in homicides in 2020.
Starting in the fiscal year 2023, Wheeler said he wants to increase the police bureau’s staffing numbers by 300 officers — 200 sworn officers and 100 unarmed public safety specialists — over the next three years.
To attract more officers to the force, Wheeler is proposing $25,000 signing bonuses to the first 50 officers or public safety specialists. He is also supporting hiring back 25 retired police officers.
"Our police bureau staffing levels are at record lows and based on projected retirements, staffing levels will continue (to decrease) unless we take decisive action now," Wheeler said.
Since August 2020, about 200 officers have left the department. Many, in their exit interviews, cited low morale, lack of support from city officials and burnout from months of racial justice protests, which often ended in plumes of tear gas before largely dying down last fall.
Currently, the Portland Police Department is around 130 officers below its authorized strength.
As Portland has reached more than 1,000 shootings this year, some residents, bystanders injured by gunfire and city leaders say the police are struggling to keep the city safe. Portland also saw repeated riots in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while he was in police custody, which reignited calls to defund the police and led to national protests.
Nationally, there was a 45% increase in the retirement rate and a nearly 20% increase in resignations from officers in 2020-2021 compared to the previous year, according to a June survey from the Police Executive Research Forum.
Smaller police departments across the country have suffered with staffing issues in the past year after larger cities such as New York City, Seattle and Los Angeles cut funds to police departments. The staffing shortages are currently being complicated by vaccine mandates implemented in cities, which have caused some officers to leave their positions or be fired for not complying.
Wheeler's announcement comes after defund the police candidates lost in elections across the country this week.
Seattle and New York City both had mayoral elections on Tuesday, with Seattle showing a strong lead for pro-police candidate Bruce Harrell, and New York City electing Democrat and former police captain, Eric Adams. While voters in Minneapolis rejected a proposed amendment to the city's charter that would have replaced the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.