Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell presented the City Council with "eye-popping" crime statistics on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
Lovell said the 2021 Annual Crime Report showed there were 89 homicides last year, a 65% increase compared to 2020. There also were 1,319 reported shootings in 2021, a 44% increase compared to 2020, and a 219% increase compared to 2019. Of those shootings, 334 were connected to injuries or homicide.
Property crimes also were on the rise last year. According to the report, motor vehicle theft increased by 40%. The 9,216 motor vehicle thefts also were a record high for the city.
"Some of the stats in there are eye-popping, to say the least," Portland Commissioner Mingus Mapps said.
"It's been a difficult two years for a lot of people in many professions," Lovell told city commissioners. "It has been especially difficult for the law enforcement field as a whole. At the Portland police bureau, I can say the challenges have been the most significant of our careers."
Lovell went on to say that PPB's ongoing staffing crisis affected the bureau's policing abilities last year. This included 104 sworn officers leaving the bureau, 43 retirements and the loss of 58 other PPB employees.
"Due to budget concerns and other factors, our hiring did not keep up with separations and retirements," Lovell said. "We're limited in going on missions to try and focus on prolific thieves, drug houses and more issues that community members say they want addressed. Our neighborhood response teams and bike team try to address this as much as possible. Staffing dramatically affects our ability to engage in effective community policing."
But Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty pushed back on that explanation.
The mayor added that while he wants to support the Portland Police Bureau moving forward, he wants officers to stop wasting time with conversations about limited resources and get the job done with the resources the city has.
"Let's stop talking about our inability to respond to crime in the community, let's stop advertising to criminals that they're going to get away with it, because I don't believe that and I don't want them to," Wheeler said. "I think we should stop using the messaging at every turn that: 'The reason we can't help our citizens with basic criminal justice issues is because we don't have the personnel.' We've got to figure out better ways to address this crisis."
"I cringe every time I hear about the staffing shortage because I have a staffing shortages [with Portland Fire and Rescue], the Portland Bureau of Transportation — every agency has a staffing shortage," Hardesty said. "Starting conversations about what you don't have always turns me off, because I can say that every day about [Portland] Fire. The difference is, [Portland] Fire doesn't show up and say: 'We're not going to put your fire out because we've been defined and we're understaffed. They do it anyway. I'm hoping to change the dialogue."
Hardesty went on to imply that PPB's reasons for not responding to certain crimes could be interpreted as a political move.
"I continue to get those calls to my office where police are telling the public: 'We've been defunded so we can't do that," she said. "'The DA doesn't prosecute, so we don't do that.' That is not acceptable. You are still public servants, and I want our public servants to actually serve the public that is paying their salary."
While the bureau's hiring crisis is ongoing, Lovell agreed with the Portland City Council that PPB has received the funding and resources necessary to fix its current staffing problems.
"We're very pleased with recruitment and hiring," he said. "We hired 16 officers last month, eight this month, and I think we're going to have a really strong double-digit hire group for September as well."
Wheeler, who that he commissioned to see how Portlanders feel about the state of the city, expressed his own thoughts on how the city will need to act moving forward to address the increase in crime.
"This council has some tough choices ahead of it," Wheeler said. "We cannot be all things to all people all the time. We can't do it all and we shouldn't. And that means we're going to have to start saying no to some of the things we currently support that have constituencies, that have support in the community, in favor of, I believe, supporting our emergency response system. That includes police, fire, the Bureau of Emergency, the Office of Emergency Management and the other functions within the city government that help us to protect our citizens and keep them safe."
The answer to addressing these problems, Wheeler said, is to be innovative when it comes to the city's tools, resources, training and personnel, and to be more accountable and transparent with the public.
"The reason so many of our firefighters and police officers are so burned out is because we're asking them to do too much with the number of people we have on the streets," he said. "We're asking way too much of them. On top of that, we have all these worst-case-scenario, simultaneous crises taking place in the community around homicide, violence, auto theft and the other 10 things you mentioned, which are all true."
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