Portland police are shifting resources to deal with rising homicides


FILE – Police respond to a fatal shooting in Portland on Feb. 19, 2022. As homicides in Oregon’s largest city continue to rise, Police Chief Chuck Lovell announced Tuesday, May 3, 2022 that he was transferring detectives from other divisions to help investigate the recent killings. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP, FILE)


As homicides in Portland, Oregon continue to rise and resources are ‘very thin’, Police Chief Chuck Lovell announced on Tuesday he was transferring detectives from other divisions to help investigate about recent murders.

The cold case team, which investigates unsolved murders from 1970 to 2019, is one of the areas where resources are extracted. The three team members, two detectives and a sergeant, were transferred to the homicide unit.

“These cold cases are very important to us. We know how important they are to families,” Lovell said. “We’re not going to walk away from this job, it’s just a temporary shift in resources to help deal with the current increase in homicides.”

Resources and officers from the Sex Crimes, Property Crimes and Human Trafficking Units have also been moved in to help tackle murders and gun violence in the city. As a result, the Homicide Unit was reduced from 18 officers to 24.

Homicides have increased in Portland in recent years. From 2019 to 2020, Portland saw a bigger increase in murders — an 83% increase — than almost any major city. Nationally, homicides have increased nearly 30% over the same time, according to FBI data.

Police and city officials say the surge — which has disproportionately affected Portland’s black community — has been fueled by gang-related arguments, drug deals gone awry and homeless disputes. shelter. The situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic, economic hardship and mental health crises.

Last year, Portland recorded 90 homicides last year, breaking the city’s previous record of 66 set in 1987. So far this year, there have been 31 homicides. The Oregonian/OregonLive reports that nine of this year’s homicides resulted in an arrest.

In total, this year there have been nearly 500 shootings in Portland.

“We had the perfect storm of things,” Lovell said. “Not only do we have a shrinking police department, we have the pandemic, an increase in shootings, a big budget cut in 2020, a loss of many officers between August 2020 and now.”

The Portland Police Department has struggled to keep pace with a severe staffing shortage and budget cuts. Currently, the office has 772 sworn members. Lovell says his ideal staffing level is 1,100.

Between August 2020 and November 2021, approximately 200 officers left the department. Many in their exit interviews cited low morale, lack of support from city officials and exhaustion after months of protests for racial justice. Additionally, Lovell says 90 officers will be eligible for retirement this year.

However, the office hopes to hire more officers soon through the recruiting and retirement-rehire program. The bureau has just hired eight background investigators to help expedite the process.

The office has also faced budget cuts.

In 2020, following rallying cries to “defund the police”, some Portlanders demanded that $50 million be cut from the police bureau’s budget, with the money earmarked for community initiatives. The city council responded by cutting $15 million. $12 extra. million have been cut due to economic deficits caused by the pandemic.

As a result, school resource officers, transit police and a gun violence reduction team — which disproportionately targeted black Portland residents during traffic stops, according to a March 2018 audit — were disbanded. .

In November 2021, officials partially reinstated the cut funds, with City Council passing a budget increase in the fall that increased the police budget by $230 million by an additional $5.2 million.

Lovell says monetary conversations are continuing ahead of the annual budget process. The chief said he was looking for “budget items” that “showed support” for the police bureau and “commitment to public safety.”

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Sandy A. Greer