By SARA CLINE
Associated Press/Report for America
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Portland has had 67 homicides so far this year, surpassing its previous record of 66, set in 1987.
Its police are struggling to keep up amid an acute staffing shortage and budget cuts. Now, the liberal Pacific Northwest city is implementing novel solutions to try to improve safety.
They include adding traffic barrels to prevent drive-by shootings and suspending minor traffic stops so officers can focus on immediate threats. But critics say the city is flailing.
Nationally, homicides increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020, based on FBI data. However, in Portland, deadly violence is increasing at a faster rate than nearly all major cities, with an 83% increase in homicides in 2020.
Portland has seen more homicides in 2021 than some larger cities, including San Francisco, and it’s had twice as many slayings as its larger Pacific Northwest neighbor, Seattle. Other hard-hit Western cities include the Albuquerque, New Mexico, metro area, which has about 679,000 residents and has seen a record 97 homicides this year.
Portland police have struggled to quell the violence, with the bureau 128 officers below authorized strength. Since August 2020, about 200 officers have left the department. Many, in their exit interviews, cited low morale, lack of support from city officials and burnout from months of racial justice protests, which often ended in plumes of tear gas and confrontation but have largely died down since last summer.
“We are running on fumes. There’s no way we can investigate thoroughly, and correctly, all these shootings,” said Daryl Turner, executive director of Portland’s police union.
Turner says the city will need to hire 840 officers over the next five years to implement proper community policing and keep Portland safe.
Besides staffing, Turner said the increase in violence is directly related to budget cuts.
Amid booming calls to defund the police, city leaders slashed $27 million from the police budget last year — $11 million due to the pandemic-caused budget crisis — a decision that Turner says has cost lives.
Officials also disbanded a specialized unit focused on curbing gun violence, which had long faced criticism for disproportionately targeting people of color.