When Portlanders call 911, they can’t rely on the police to show up.
When bicyclists called the police in fear of an apparently armed man who was driving down a closed street, the cops didn’t come, WW reported last week. When neighbors called the cops after street racers shut down the intersection of Northeast Sandy Boulevard and Fremont Street over the weekend, they were told nothing could be done, KGW reported on Monday.
The police explanation in each case was similar. In statements to the media, the Portland Police Bureau said it was critically understaffed and unable to respond to every call. Other public safety agencies have made similar statements.
At a City Council meeting this morning, Mayor Ted Wheeler told Police Chief Chuck Lovell that’s “bullshit.”
Wheeler’s salty language was a direct rebuke to the bureau’s communications strategy of blaming slow response on staffing.
Wheeler made that remark after agreeing at length that police, along with the fire bureau and 911 dispatch desk, are woefully understaffed. “We have now acknowledged we have a staffing shortage,” he said. “Let’s stop talking about it.”
“Let’s stop talking about our inability to respond to crime in the community. Let’s stop advertising to criminals that they are going to get away with it,” he said.
Wheeler’s comments came after Lovell presented the Police Bureau’s annual report to the City Council. In it, the report noted that the bureau began 2021 with not enough officers to achieve the minimal staffing required to respond to 911 calls. In response, the bureau took officers from other units like Behavioral Health and Organized Crime and Traffic and put them out on patrol.
At this morning’s council meeting, Lovell said the issue at this point is not funding—it’s finding candidates that can pass the Police Bureau’s background checks. Of the 675 people who applied for police officer positions last year, only 27 were hired.
Going forward, the bureau hopes to hire at least 10 candidates every month, Lovell said. “That will slowly bring us out of our staffing crisis,” he said.
But Wheeler said he wants more “innovative” solutions and fewer excuses. “We should not be daunted by this,” he said. “And I know you’re not, Chuck Lovell.”