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Portland mayor sets target to hire 300 police staff members in three years

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler outlined a series of proposals to strengthen the police bureau and reduce gun violence at a Wednesday news conference

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Wednesday released a set of proposed public safety investments for consideration as part of the annual fall budget adjustment process.

Portland is grappling with a historic surge in gun violence, and has already broken annual records for shootings and homicides this year. The city passed 1,000 shootings last month, compared with 891 total shootings in 2020 and 388 in 2019.

“This is the deadliest era in modern times for the city of Portland," Wheeler said during a virtual news conference on Wednesday.

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Outlining a framework that he called "Reform, Refocus and Restaff," Wheeler said he would push for a number of investments including hiring 300 new Portland Police Bureau (PPB) staff in the next three years, equipping officers with body-worn cameras and creating a new police training academy in Portland.

Two thirds of the new staff would be certified and armed officers, he said, while the remaining 100 would be unarmed community safety specialists. The city will also work to improve its system to triage 911 calls and make sure individual calls get correctly routed to police or other groups like Portland Street Response.

“The response we deploy needs to fit the specific call for assistance," he said.

Wheeler said he would seek to create hiring bonuses of up to $25,000 and longevity bonuses for current officers, as well as a "retire-rehire" option with the goal of bringing back 25 recently-retired or soon-to-be-retired officers this year and another 25 next year.

He also pledged to hire a consultant to calculate new staffing minimums for PPB and develop a comprehensive staffing strategy for the next five years, as well as a consultant to identify gaps and duplication in order to better align city and county efforts.

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The overall list of general fund requests includes about $5.2 million for various PPB initiatives, about $842,000 for programs at the Community Safety Division of the Office of Management & Finance, $330,000 for programs the Office of Violence Prevention and about $1.7 million for Portland Street Response through Portland Fire & Rescue, plus requests for just over $2 million in non-general fund dollars for other Office of Management and Finance programs.

Wheeler acknowledged that many of his proposals would require support from the other members of the Portland City Council, and some of them such as the hiring bonuses would also need to be negotiated with the Portland Police Association, the union that represents Portland police. 

Wheeler denied that the proposals represent a new commitment or level of action from his own office, saying that his priorities haven't changed but that some of his earlier proposals couldn't make it through the city council. He said he felt that public sentiment has moved closer to his agenda and that he was more confident that the current iteration of the council would support his proposals.