Portland, OR – The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) is running dangerously short on officers as only three out of 60 recent applicants were able to pass the background check, but the police union said the problem is much bigger than that.
Portland Police Bureau Chief Danielle Outlaw recently told a meeting of city commissioners that there are 120 vacancies in what should be a department of 1,000 officers for the city, KOIN reported.
Out of more than 60 applicants for public safety specialist jobs, only three were able to pass the required background check.
Most of those who failed did so because of marijuana use or dishonesty, KOIN reported.
Despite changing marijuana laws, anyone who has smoked it in the past year is ineligible for the police force because the drug still violates federal law.
But the head of the police union said in a press release on Monday that the officer shortage has less to do with passing the background check than the PPB’s inability to attract the best applicants because of anti-police sentiment in the city, KOIN reported.
Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner said that good potential recruits prefer to work someplace else for the same or better pay instead of “working under a microscope in a highly politicized city where police officers are vilified,” the press release continued. “This notion, of course, seemed to go right over the Commissioners’ heads."
In February, the police union published an open letter that called attention to the problem, KPTV reported.
Turner talked about “catastrophic staffing shortages” and both the patrol and investigative levels.
In his letter, Turner said that officers were being placed at risk by the shortage, according to KPTV.
He also said that assault victims in Portland only have a 3.5 percent change of having their cases actually be investigated.
Turner said that the 93 new positions included in the PPB budget proposal were a good “first step” to addressing the shortage of officers, but said the effort would also require the mayor to bring a “can-do attitude to public safety,” KPTV reported.
The police union president blamed the shortage of officers on one specific thing.
“The intense anti-police sentiment in our City that City Council seems to share. The result of that problem is that policing in Portland is hideously unattractive, discouraging good applicants from applying and prompting our officers to leave or retire as soon as they’re able,” Turner said in the April 8 press release.
He said the community knew officers weren’t doing their jobs “because they know City Hall has put a stranglehold on proactive policing and enforcement and has been completely unsupportive of PPB and its officers.”
“False narratives, knee jerk political reactions, along with personal and political agendas have created a hostile work environment and made it an impossible task to effectively police in the City of Portland,” the union president said in the press release.
“Our police officers are frustrated,” Turner continued. “They deserve better. They deserve to work in an environment where they can perform their primary function — keeping our communities safe — with the support of City Hall. Similarly, our communities are frustrated. They deserve better. They deserve safe, clean streets. It’s that simple.”
Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty asked Chief Outlaw at the city council meeting if, in light of the police officer shortage, more officials shouldn’t be reassigned to patrol duty, according to KOIN.
"Is there a way to reconfigure your workforce to have more officers on the street rather than in supervisor or specialty units?" Hardesty asked.
The chief responded that to do so would reduce oversight on patrol officers, KOIN reported.
"I'm sure there is a way to flatten the hierarchy," Chief Outlaw said. "But the issue with that is to maintain accountability and chain of command."
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has asked the chief to cut one percent of the PPB budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Chief Outlaw proposed dropping the self-defense training courses being offered to the public, but the city commissioners put the kibosh on that idea, KOIN reported.