Portland among US cities adding funds to police departments

Night after night, hundreds of people marched through the streets of Oregon’s largest city, demanding racial justice after George Floyd was murdered by a white officer.

Among the rallying cries was “define the police” – a call for elected officials to reallocate law enforcement funds elsewhere. In June 2020, Portland City Council and the mayor responded by cutting millions from the police budget.

Now, a year and a half later, officials have partially restored the severed funds. Portland City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed a fall budget increase that included increasing the police’s current $ 230 million budget by an additional $ 5.2 million. The additional police spending comes amid a year of record homicides, the city’s biggest police shortage in decades, and recommendations for reform from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Many people in Portland no longer feel safe,” said Mayor Ted Wheeler. “And it is our duty, as leaders of this city, to act and achieve better results within our crisis response system.”

Portland isn’t the only liberal city to do an about-face on police spending. From New York to Los Angeles – in cities that have seen some of Black Lives Matter’s biggest protests, and some with a long history of police brutality – police departments are seeing their finances partially restored in response to the rise in homicides, to an exodus of officers and pressure.

In the recent municipal elections, some winning candidates pledged to strengthen public security budgets. In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, voters rejected a proposal to replace the police department with a new Department of Public Safety.

Although the three-word call to action was the starting point for communities to talk about how they want to be monitored, experts say the goals of “funding the police” are questionable. For some it means abolishing police services, for others it is about reducing law enforcement budgets and for others it is about reform and accountability.

“The police fundraising movement has provided an opportunity for historically disenfranchised and historically underfunded communities to voice their continued dissatisfaction with policing,” said Howard Henderson, director of the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University.

For months, starting in late May 2020, Portland – one of America’s whitest cities – was rocked by near-nightly Black Lives Matter protests. At the time, officials including Wheeler came under fire for what many described as an overly aggressive police force.

At the height of the protests, officers reported more than 6,000 uses of force. The US Department of Justice berated the office for its “disproportionately high” reliance on violent tactics.

Portland police have always been aggressive. In 2014, the city and the Justice Department reached a settlement agreement following a federal investigation that found Portland officers used excessive force against people with mental illness. Some of the police spending that was spent on Wednesday – including $ 2.7 million for body-worn cameras and hiring staff to assess the police department’s crowd control tactics – was created in order to meet the reform requirements of the Ministry of Justice.

During protests last year, Portlanders demanded that $ 50 million be cut from the department’s budget, with the money going to community initiatives.

The city council reacted by cutting $ 15 million. An additional $ 12 million was cut due to economic deficits caused by the pandemic. As a result, school resource officers, transport police and a gun violence reduction team – which was found to disproportionately target Black Portland residents during traffic stops, according to a March 2018 audit – have been dissolved.

Similar steps have been taken elsewhere.

In the aftermath of the protests, Los Angeles City Council slashed the police budget by $ 150 million, promising to spend that money on other social services. Likewise, in New York, lawmakers approved a $ 1 billion transfer from police to education and social services. At the time, the NYPD budget was around $ 6 billion, with several billion dollars more in shared municipal spending such as pensions. However, since the reduction, concerns about crime have led to a reinstatement of funding of around $ 200 million.

Henderson says some of the loudest voices in the “defund” movement were not from residents of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods.

“The people who live in these high crime communities…. they don’t want to get rid of the police altogether, ”Henderson said. “What they want to do is get rid of the bad police”,

In Portland, gun violence has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Family members of homicide victims and advocates who work with young gang members questioned the cuts and called for a greater police presence, as well as increased accountability and social services.

In the November elections, questions about when and where police are needed were at the forefront.

In Seattle, mayoral candidates who wanted to fund the police stumbled. In New York, former police captain Eric Adams, who did not accept calls for police funding, was elected mayor.

In Minneapolis, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo proposed a budget of $ 192 million for 2022, which would restore funding to what it was before Floyd died. The proposed budget, which will be voted on in December, includes funds to replace about 300 people who have resigned since last year.

Similarly in Portland, the police department is short of 128 officers compared to the authorized strength. Additional police spending includes signing bonuses for new officers, funding a retirement and rehiring program, and strengthening recruiting with the goal of hiring 200 additional sworn officers and 100 non-sworn community security officers. armed by 2024 – what some advocates see as significant reform and compromise. funding for the police.

Nationally, homicides increased nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, according to FBI data. However, in Portland, deadly violence has increased at a faster rate than almost any major city, with an 83% increase in homicides in 2020.

Aaron Chalfin, a University of Pennsylvania criminologist who has studied four decades of police budgets in large cities, says that 54% of the times cities have hired more officers, the number of homicides has declined. Many factors go into fluctuating crime rates, including the number of officers and police budgets. Other factors include financial and mental health hardship caused by the pandemic, the economy, youth programs, and even the amount of street lighting.

There are “a million things that make crime go up and down,” Chalfin said.

Across the country, authorities have used the “defund the police” movement to discuss policing alternatives.

In Portland, this paved the way for City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty – the first black woman elected to city council and a key architect of police reform plans – to create Portland Street Response. The unarmed law enforcement alternative – comprised of a paramedic, mental health crisis responder, and peer support specialists – responds to non-emergency calls for people in need. crisis.

Henderson said that because of “police funding” a valuable national conversation has been started.

“In the end, was that the best sentence? Maybe it was? Maybe it wasn’t? Said Henderson. “But at least we’re talking about it.”

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Sara Cline is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative body. Report for America is a national, nonprofit service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to cover undercover issues.

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