Portland is among the American cities adding money to police departments
Portland, ore. Night after night, hundreds of people demonstrated in the streets of Oregon’s largest city, demanding racial justice after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white officer.
Among the crowd’s cries was “Stop funding the police” – a call for elected officials to reallocate some law enforcement funding elsewhere. In June 2020, the Portland city council and mayor responded by cutting millions from the police budget.
Now, a year and a half later, officials have partially returned the deducted money. On Wednesday, the Portland City Council unanimously passed a fall budget bump that included increasing the current $230 million police budget by an additional $5.2 million. The extra police spending is happening amid a year that saw a record number of murders, the city’s largest police shortage in decades, and reform recommendations made by the US Department of Justice.
“Many Portlanders no longer feel safe,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “And it is our duty, as leaders in this city, to take action and achieve better results within the crisis response system.”
Portland isn’t the only liberal city working to change police spending. From New York City to Los Angeles — in cities that have seen some of the biggest protests over black lives, some with long histories of police brutality — police departments are seeing their finances recover in part in response to rising homicides, officer exodus and politics. pressures.
In recent municipal elections, some of the winning candidates pledged to bolster public safety budgets. In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, voters rejected a proposal to replace the police department with a new Public Safety Department.
Although the three-word call to action has served as a springboard for communities to talk about how they want to be caught, experts say the goals of “defunding the police” are debatable. For some, it’s about eliminating police departments, for others, it’s about cutting law enforcement budgets, and for others, it’s about reform and accountability.
“The movement to defund the police has led an opportunity for historically underserved and under-resourced communities to express their continued dissatisfaction with the police,” said Howard Henderson, director of the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University.
For months, beginning in late May 2020, Portland — one of America’s whitest cities — had been plagued by near-night Black Lives Matter protests. At the time, officials including Wheeler were criticized for what many described as an overly aggressive police force.
During the height of the protests, officers reported more than 6,000 uses of force. The US Department of Justice reprimanded the office for its “unnaturally high” reliance on violent tactics.
Portland police have a history of fighting. In 2014, the city and the Department of Justice reached a settlement agreement after a federal investigation found that Portland officers used excessive force against people with mental illness. Some of the police expenditures that passed Wednesday — including $2.7 million for body-worn cameras and hiring staff to assess the police department’s crowd control tactics — were created in order to meet the Justice Department’s reform requirements.
During last year’s protests, Portlanders called for a $50 million cut from the department’s budget, with the money going to community initiatives.
The city council responded by cutting $15 million. An additional $12 million has been cut due to the economic shortfall caused by the pandemic. As a result, school resource officers, transit police, and the firearms violence reduction team — which was found to disproportionately target black Portland residents during a traffic stop, according to a March 2018 review — were disbanded.
Similar actions have been taken elsewhere.
In the wake of the protests, the Los Angeles City Council cut $150 million from the police budget, promising to put that money into other social services. Likewise, New York City lawmakers agreed to divert $1 billion from policing to education and social services. At the time, the NYPD budget was about $6 billion, with several billion dollars in common city expenses such as pensions. However, since the cut, concerns about crime have led to the recovery of about $200 million in funding.
Some of the loudest voices for the “defund” movement, Henderson says, weren’t people in crime-ridden neighborhoods.
“People who live in these high-crime communities….Henderson said they don’t want to get rid of the police completely. What they want to do is get rid of the bad police”
In Portland, gun violence disproportionately affected communities of color. Family members of murder victims and advocates working with young gang members have questioned the cuts and demanded a greater police presence, along with accountability and increased social services.
In the November elections, questions about when and where the police would be needed came to the fore.
In Seattle, mayoral candidates who wanted to disarm the police stumbled. In New York City, former police captain Eric Adams, who has not embraced calls to defund the police, has been elected mayor.
In Minneapolis, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo proposed a $192 million budget for 2022, which would restore funding to what it was before Floyd’s death. The proposed budget, which will be voted on in December, includes money to replace about 300 who have resigned since last year.
Similarly in Portland, the police department is 128 officers short of authorized strength. Additional police spending includes signing bonuses for new officers, funding a retiree re-employment program, and boosting hiring with a goal of appointing an additional 200 sworn officers and 100 unarmed community safety officers by 2024 — what some advocates see as a beneficial win for reform and a settlement for police funding cuts.
Nationally, homicides increased nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, based on FBI data. However, in Portland, fatal violence increased at a faster rate than nearly all major cities, with homicides increasing by 83% in 2020.
Aaron Chalvin, a University of Pennsylvania criminologist who has studied four decades of police budgets in major cities, says that 54% of the times cities have hired more officers, homicide numbers have decreased. Many factors play a role in the volatility of crime rates, including the number of officers and budgets of police departments. Other factors include the financial and mental health struggles caused by the pandemic, the economy, youth programs and even the amount of street lighting.
There are “a million things driving crime up and down,” Chalvin said.
Across the country, officials have used the “Defund the Police” movement to discuss alternatives to police action.
In Portland, she paved the way for city commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty—the first black woman elected to the city council and a principal architect of police reform plans—to create the Portland Street Response. The unarmed conditional alternative — made up of a paramedic, a mental health crisis responder and peer support specialists — responds to the non-emergency calls of people in crisis.
Because of the “defunding of the police,” Henderson said, a valuable patriotic conversation has begun.
“At the end of the day, was it the best phrase? Maybe it was? Maybe it wasn’t?” said Henderson. “But at least we’re talking about it.”
Sarah Klein is a panellist for the Associated Press/Reporting for the America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program that puts journalists in local newsrooms to report confidential issues.
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