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November 14th, 2012 TROY BRYNELSON | News Stories
 

Counting Cops

Police staffing levels will come under scrutiny as Charlie Hales pushes reforms.

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Mayor-elect Charlie Hales will be returning to City Hall in January with big plans to reform the Portland Police Bureau.

Hales wants a return to community policing. And Hales wants full implementation of the city’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over the police’s treatment of the mentally ill.

The city has agreed to rewrite use-of-force policies, provide officers specialized training, and expand its mobile crisis unit.

But the reforms could also require more cops. Community policing, for example, typically means more foot patrols. 

The city now has 956 sworn officers. Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner says the city should increase that by 25 percent. 

But the city is facing a budget shortfall for 2013 and is hard-pressed to find money to cover the one-time cost of $5.8 million for implementing its settlement with the Justice Department.

Given that Portland’s crime rate has dropped every year since 2003, does the city actually need more cops?

WW looked at how many officers Portland has per capita, compared to seven other cities in the West. 

The result: Portland has one of the lowest officer-to-citizen ratios: 1.62 cops per 1,000 residents. Los Angeles has the highest, with 2.72 per 1,000 population.

But experts say rough cuts such as these don’t tell the whole story. 

“The per-capita approach is not an appropriate benchmark since it overshadows the variation of each community,” Jeremy Wilson, associate professor of criminology at Michigan State University, tells WW.

For instance, he says, San Diego has an even lower staffing ratio—1.38 officers per 1,000 residents—and still has half the crime rate of Portland.

“You want to figure out what the workload of the police is,” Wilson says.

So WW also looked at police staffing against calls for service, one of many key indicators experts such as Wilson consider.

This time, Portland looks better: 202 calls for service per officer. Only Los Angeles (73) and Seattle (196) look better. 

NOTE: Statistics are for 2011. SOURCES: Reports from individual cities; U.S. Census Bureau.

 

 
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