Portland, Ore. council approves $5M increase to police budget

Portland approved a city budget Wednesday that increased spending for its police department by more than $5 million, reversing public safety budget cuts officials made in 2020.

The approved city budget includes $7 million for public safety services, and most of the money would flow directly to the Portland Police Bureau.

Oregon Public Radio reported that Mayor Ted Wheeler plans to rehire 25 police officers, purchase more body-worn police cameras and set up a police training academy. Additionally, he will hire "public safety support specialists" who will respond to low-level emergency calls.

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Commissioner Mingus Mapps told The Hill that the budget includes an expansion in a program for "public safety support specialists" that will increase its personnel to 22. The specialists would respond to low-level property crimes.

A pilot project that employs first responders to assist with those in a mental health crisis — instead of armed police — would also expand to nearly 50 neighborhoods in Portland, Mapps said.

The commissioner said the budget was a response to an increase in violent crime in the city. Portland recorded 75 homicides in the past year, the most in its 170-year history, according to Mapps.

"Portlanders don't feel safe, and this budget represents a significant step toward keeping Portlanders safe," he said.

The news follows a significant police budget cut the city made last year. In 2020, shortly after Portland experienced months of protests and riots against police brutality following the death of George Floyd — and defund the police became a national rallying cry — the city slashed its police budget by $15 million.

But crime has increased in the city since then, with more than 6,000 calls for service in October 2021, compared to 5,754 in October 2020. And homicides are up 30 percent nationwide from 2020, according to FBI data.

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Wheeler told Oregon Public Radio that residents, first and foremost, want to feel safe. “The players have changed, and I believe they’re willing to look at objective facts and make decisions based on objective facts,” he said.

Mapps said a combination of factors led to the increase in crime, but "a sad reality" in Portland is that 911 calls have increased 20 percent — while the city is far too understaffed to respond to every emergency call.

The Portland police department currently consists of 800 police officers when it should have 1,200, according to Mapps, who took office in January.

"It will take four years, if everything goes well, to both restructure and reimagine our police department," he said. "But the important thing is the budget we passed yesterday is an important step toward that goal."

Portland is not the only city to slash its police budget and then reverse that decision. New York City redirected $1 billion in July 2020, but has since restored $200 million of the money, according to AP.

— Updated at 6:28 p.m.