An "unprecedented" number of police officers in Portland are leaving midcareer, opting to forego service time toward their retirement and take lower-paying jobs in smaller towns, citing poor working conditions in Oregon’s largest city, according to a recent report.
Portland Assistant Chief Michael Frome, who oversees the bureau’s human resources department, told the Portland Tribune that 14 officers have filed papers to retire by January, nine have resigned since November, and seven have filed to resign within the next few weeks. He explained the number of resignations may be even greater, as records requests from other police departments suggest "we have around 25 people that may be in the process of trying to get hired in other places."
"This is unprecedented," Frome told the Tribune. "We really have not seen this many people leaving at this stage in their career… They’re leaving because they just don’t enjoy working here anymore."
In the past, officers in smaller towns like Beaverton, Bend, Hillsboro, Tigard and Boise, Idaho, would come to larger cities like Portland seeking more pay. But the trend seems to have reversed. Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee, who formerly worked as assistant chief for the Portland Police Bureau, told the Tribune that he recently hired four police officers away from his old department.
"Salaries in Boise are lower than salaries in Portland and the officers coming to Boise will be taking a cut in pay," Boise Police Department spokesman Haley Williams confirmed.
Portland Chief Chuck Lovell recently announced that all K-9 officers, as well as the majority of traffic cops, will be moved to respond to 911 calls. The change comes after months of nearly constant demonstrations in Portland since the death of George Floyd.
"For a lot of these people that are choosing to go somewhere else, they spent a lot of months this last summer constantly being yelled at to ‘Quit your job, quit your job,'" Frome said. "That cumulative toll on our officers, it builds up. So in some ways, yes, there is a win by those that would want the police to be defunded."
Demonstrators calling to abolish or defund police have violently clashed with law enforcement at federal properties over the summer, and most recently, an occupation protest heightened security concerns in a residential neighborhood as armed protesters sought to block the eviction of a Black and Indigenous family.
According to the Tribune, several officers leaving the Portland Police Bureau come from racially diverse backgrounds, and the city’s police recruiter tasked with finding diverse candidates for the force was laid off over the summer amid a slew of changes that came at the height of the "Defund the Police" movement.
The $15 million budget cut voted in by Portland City Council in July forced the police bureau to eliminate vacancies it had been using to fund several operations, including overtime pay to respond to protests and rioting. But large-scale demonstrations continued, and the bureau needed to continue to spend money in that area, meaning cuts were made elsewhere and hiring came to a temporary freeze.
"When the cuts came in and we basically lost our vacancies, that put us in a bigger fiscal hole than we were anticipating being in," Frome said. "We didn’t have the money to hire, so we laid off basically half of our background investigators. We laid off our recruiter, because we just did not see a position in the near future where we were going to be able to use them to capacity."
It costs the bureau roughly 18 months of salary, as well as support from the training division and the trainee’s supervising officer, to fully train new officers to be ready to respond to calls on their own. The recent departures have not created a dire situation yet, as there are about 50 trainees who will be ready for solo duty next year, Frome said. Though with officers leaving at the midpoint of their career, he said he aims to avoid too large of an age gap that could cause a staffing crisis in the future.