Like other major cities, Portland, Oregon, has experienced a surge in crime and disorder over the past three years. Unlike other cities, Portland is uniquely ill-equipped to deal with this problem, because its police department is uniquely understaffed, says the Manhattan Institute in a new report. With just 1.26 officers per every 1,000 residents, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) ranks 48th among the nation’s 50 largest cities for its staffing-to-population ratio. As a result, the bureau struggles to provide even basic service, taking up to half an hour to respond to high-priority calls. The staffing crisis has both short-run and long-run causes. In the short run, the city’s riots after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, as well as its leadership’s embrace of the “defund the police” movement, dealt a massive blow to police morale, driving mass resignations and retirements, which have continued to hamstring operations. That culminated years of declining staffing-to-population ratios, driven by challenges in hiring and training that preexist the protests.
The Manhattan Institute recommends several steps that Portland can take to address its staffing problems, including increasing officer pay, civilianizing desk jobs, increasing the number of employees working on processing job applications, reducing the length of academy and field training, Conducting training in Portland, rather than in the state facility in Salem, and "working to regain the trust of police officers by unambiguously emphasizing support for them and their profession." The report says Portland is in a public safety crisis. The city set homicide records in the past two years and is facing a wave of shootings that has not receded. Property crimes have surged and public disorder, in the form of camping and public drug use, is rampant.
These problems do not make Portland unique. Many major cities have these problems, but "what sets Portland apart are the limits on its capacity to respond to these issues with the traditional tools of the criminal-justice system and, in particular, its capacity to use the police."