BLOG: We must invest in public safety

BLOG: We must invest in public safety

When Danielle Outlaw was sworn in last October as Portland’s police chief, our community came together and showed an incredible amount of support for her vision for Portland. At the Portland Business Alliance, where I am the chair of the board of directors, we are excited to partner with her and continue to support the bureau in whatever ways we can.

Now, working closely with Mayor Ted Wheeler, Chief Outlaw has submitted the annual Portland Police Bureau’s budget request for the 2018/2019 budget cycle. The request outlines the need for 93 new sworn officers, and nine new professional positions that can rebuild the core service of the police agency and begin to repopulate units, conduct dedicated enforcement activities and allow for walking beats. The 93 new sworn officers would certainly be an improvement, and considering the massive wave of retirements that are expected in the next three years, it is a vital step in the right direction.
Mayor Wheeler has been an integral part of the bureau’s budget development. However, he is just one vote on our City Council. It is imperative that our city leaders support the resources Chief Outlaw needs to implement 21st Century policing strategies and reforms within the Portland Police Bureau by approving her budget request.
The bureau’s efforts are fundamental to ensuring Portland remains a safe and welcoming environment for residents, visitors and businesses, and especially for our most vulnerable citizens. However, without additional funding, our police can’t make that happen. Their current resources are stretched far too thin and the force is startlingly understaffed compared to both our own historic staffing levels and other major cities.

To put this in perspective, in 2001, Portland was home to about 536,240 people. The number of authorized sworn officers was at 1,049. In 2016, when the force reached its current level of 948, 639,864 people were living here. In comparison, in 2016, Seattle’s 704,352 residents were protected by a robust police force of 1,300 officers.

This is one instance where our city should aspire to be more like our neighbor to the North. Despite more than 100,000 new Portlanders, our police force has been systemically cut when our growing population should have led to a substantial increase.

We are now experiencing the consequences.

The massive growth in population has brought a significant rise in calls for service, crime and livability issues. This is a surprise to no one. If staffing is not increased to meet the greater demands, then response times will continue to get longer. Indeed, the average response time in 2016-17 was slightly more than six and a half minutes - an increase of more than a minute from the average response time in 2014-15.
In addition to the new positions, the bureau has asked for funding a variety of programs and onetime funding of $8.8 million, including $2.6 million for technology improvements and $3.8 million for facilities enhancements. If approved, these funds will have a significant impact on the bureau’s ability to rebuild trust among our underserved communities, and new equipment will allow them to be more efficient and more accountable.

Investing in the Portland Police Bureau so they can implement a community policing model will continue the bureau’s work of forging better relationships with the entire community, keeping every Portlander safe. Additional officers, equipped with modernized technology, will increase the bureau’s capacity to respond to public safety issues and to engage productively with citizens and businesses.
Our city leaders have the opportunity to set a positive precedent when considering the bureau’s budget request. They can show that authorized sworn staffing levels should be proportionate to the size of our population, the ability to respond to calls for service in a timely manner, and the actions necessary to achieve our community policing goals.

In her first few months on the job, Chief Outlaw has shown the leadership and vision required to revitalize Portland’s police force and to foster trust between the bureau and the community. It is essential that City Council members show the same leadership - and support the officers working day in and day out to make our city safe, livable and welcoming - by approving the Portland Police Bureau’s budget request as submitted.