Liberal and Conservative Portland Police Officers Diverge on Need for Racial Bias Training, Outside Contractor Finds

Meanwhile, morale is low: 15% of respondents said they planned to leave PPB in the next year—an attrition rate that is above the national average of 4.9%.

On Jan. 31, Portland City Hall released the long-awaited report compiled by a California-based outside contractor, called the OIR Group, which signed a $150,000 contract with the city last spring to review potential political and racial bias within the Portland Police Bureau.

Among the most interesting findings in the 80-page report are those that pertain to political affiliations.

Out of 276 PPB officers who responded, 33% identified as “very” or “somewhat conservative,” and 26% identified as “very” or “somewhat” liberal.” (The remainder did not identify as either, or declined to state their political viewpoint.)

The contractors also asked the officers to indicate where they land on a spectrum, with “0″ indicating that they believe the bureau would benefit from more training designed to “prevent racial views from unfairly influencing officers’ work,” and “100″ indicating that the bureau would not benefit. (A “50″ score is neutral.)

“Men averaged a score of 70 while women averaged a score of 57, meaning that men were more likely than women to believe there is no need for additional racial bias training,” the report says. “Those who identified as ‘conservative’ averaged a score of 79, while those who identified as ‘liberal’ averaged a score of 48, meaning that liberals leaned more toward the need for more racial bias training.”

The outside contractors also reviewed morale and job satisfaction. The results were bleak, but not totally surprising.

They found that 15% of 276 respondents planned on leaving PPB in the next year— an attrition rate that is above the 2020-21 national average of 4.9%.

“Respondents generally reported that the bureau is heading in the wrong direction and they have less enthusiasm for their job in recent years,” the report says. “And while some reported that they would stay in their current jobs until retirement, the rates of resignation and desire to stay on the job until retirement are concerning.”

The contractor asked the respondents to rank how much they agree with the statement: “I feel the bureau is heading in the right direction.”

Thirty-eight percent said they “strongly disagree” with the statement, 30% said they “disagree,” 8% said they “agree,” 1.5% (four respondents total) said they “strongly agree,“ and 23% were neutral.

“Similarly, most reported less enthusiasm for working for the bureau than a year ago,” the report says. “This is not the first survey to report such sentiments.”

They found that 73% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the following statement: “I am more enthusiastic about working for the Portland Police Bureau than I was a year ago.”

In addition, 36% of 269 respondents indicated that they did not plan on working at PPB until retirement.

“This finding, coupled with the above resignation rates, points to a concerning phenomenon in PPB morale: whether or not officers actually act on their reported plans to resign or depart before retirement, their mindset is one of resignation, quitting, or leaving their roles as law enforcement professionals.”

Sixty percent of respondents said they “did not feel supported by the senior leadership of the bureau.” However, command staff reported feeling more supported than rank-and-file officers: Almost 70% of the 163 officers, detectives and sergeants reported that they did not feel supported by leadership, compared to 40% of the 23 respondents ranked lieutenants and above.

The report also highlighted the widening chasm between PPB and City Hall.

Ninety percent of respondents said they strongly agreed with the following statement: “The Portland city government has made the work of the Bureau more difficult over the last year or two.”

Eighty-two percent said they strongly agreed, and another 16% said they agreed, with the following statement: “The Portland city government lacks an understanding of the challenges involved with everyday policing.”

The morale section of the report also includes anonymized comments from some of the respondents. The comments focused largely on bureau leadership, as well as City Hall and its influence on PPB policy.

“Further, many commented that the relationship between [City Council] and the bureau became especially strained in the past two years and that [Council]—specifically, the Mayor’s Office—did not adequately support officers. On the contrary, respondents reported feeling ‘betrayed’ and ‘thrown under the bus’ by its own city government.”

Here are some excerpts:

“There is a clear disconnection with the Chief’s Office and the line staff, mostly because they operate remotely and have to be asked or begged to show up at a precinct. It’s shameful leadership.”

“Not having the Chief be a politically appointed position subject to the whims of the Mayor’s office.”

“I would argue for city council members to do ride-alongs so they would understand what policing in this city actually looks like.”

“We owe it to the greater community to distance our agency from the ever-changing political winds of city hall and focus on our primary mission which is to prevent/solve crime and the fear of crime in Portland. Just like I wouldn’t want city hall telling an oncologist how best to treat cancer, we should resist city hall directing the Police Chief and PPB on how best to address crime and public safety in the city.”

“City leaders, elected officials, and community need to know officers feel betrayed by them over the past 18-24 months. Although it is dangerous to do, I would publicly have that discussion—this is partly why retention has become such an issue for this agency.”

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