Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler flinched. In the midst of an unprecedented monthslong surge in gun violence and homicides, Wheeler compromised with the Portland City Council and backed off from his request that the Portland Police Bureau be appropriated $2 million in emergency funding. Instead, Wheeler and the commissioners voted to spend $6 million on grants to community groups already receiving funding and hire 24 park rangers.
“What we’re doing today is starting a pathway towards making sure that we’re investing dollars where they make the most good,” said Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. “We’re also at the front end of transforming our police department.”
The deal gives police no money but calls for the Portland Police Bureau to assemble a new gun violence team to replace the one eliminated last June, when the city defunded its police by $15 million in the midst of nightly social justice protests.
The new group will be called the Focus Intervention Team. It will be smaller than the former Gun Violence Reduction Team and will have civilian oversight. Police Chief Chuck Lovell said it might be tough to find officers who want to work on the FIT and it will create more staffing shortages elsewhere in the department.
“We’re so lean right now, it’s really hard to find a place where there’s a dozen officers to pull from,” Lovell said.
Between COVID-related cutbacks and the defunding demanded by protesters, the Portland Police Bureau’s budget is down $27 million. Eighty-four officer positions were eliminated and since last July 115 officers have quit the department, leaving 818 sworn members in a department that one year ago was budgeted to have 1,001.
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