New Report: How to Fix Portland’s Police Staffing Crisis
Understaffing leaves Portland police struggling to provide basic services
NEW YORK, NY — Like other major cities, Portland, Oregon, has experienced a surge in crime and disorder over the past three years. This uptick has not been lost on Portlanders, with 72% reporting in a recent survey that they feel unsafe downtown at night. Nearly 35% don’t feel safe even during the day. Respondents blame Portland police for downtown’s deterioration, emphasizing their slow or non-existent responses. Official city data confirm the problem: it now takes up to half an hour for the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) to respond to high-priority calls, and hours for "minor" offenses.
How has this happened? In a new Manhattan Institute report, fellow Charles Fain Lehman explains that Portland is uniquely ill-equipped to deal with its crime problem due to major understaffing issues in its police department.
With just 1.26 officers per every 1,000 residents, PPB ranks 48th among the nation’s 50 largest cities for its staffing-to-population ratio. In recent years, Portland has slashed $15 million from the bureau’s budget, and cut the number of sworn officers by 8% in response to “defund the police” demands. These cuts have forced the department to dedicate all available officers to respond to emergency calls. This leaves no capacity for proactive patrol, a proven method for reducing crime, and stifles PPB’s ability to provide other basic services. Dedicated traffic enforcement ended in 2021 to free staff for emergency response teams, and traffic deaths surged thereafter. Similarly, drug overdoses have gone uninvestigated with the department reporting it has just one narcotics detective; more than half of narcotics officers were transferred to patrol back in 2021.
But PPB’s understaffing has also been driven by challenges in hiring and training that preceded the protests in 2020. Lehman considers all these challenges and recommends a number of steps to address them. These include:
- Increasing officer pay;
- Civilianizing PPB desk jobs;
- Increasing the number of employees working on processing job applications;
- Reducing the length of academy and field training;
- Conducting PPB training in Portland, rather than in the state facility in Salem; and
- Working to regain the public’s trust.