Portland wants to walk back defunding the police but officers don't want the jobs

AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus

Last June Portland’s Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, decided to put an end to the Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT) as part of an effort to reimagine policing. The $6 million that would have gone to the team was redirected ” toward communities of color.” Even at the time the assistant chief of police warned their could be serious consequences.

According to Assistant Police Chief Andy Shearer, who oversees the team, the GVRT tracks all shootings in the city (homicides, suicides, robberies, domestic violence, etc.)…

“There’s been cities in the recent past, two in California that I’m thinking of, that both had to reduce their staffing sizes and did away with their gun violence reduction units. Both agencies saw record numbers of homicides in the year immediately following that. And one of those cities even set a new record the second year after they did away with that team … The partnership between the community outreach and then data-driven, very deliberate law enforcement efforts are critical in addressing this type of gun violence,” Chief Shearer said.

Daryl Turner, the head of Portland’s Police Union issued a similar warning. “That is going to cripple us in our ability to be able to stop violence in the streets of the city of Portland,” he said.

After the GVRT was cut, the number of shootings and murders in Portland skyrocketed. Last September there were 110 shootings in Portland, a 243% jump compared to a year earlier. At the end of the year, Portland had more than 900 shootings, double the previous year.

The spike in violence continued into 2021. In the first two months of this year Portland had 17 homicides compared to just one the previous year. The city is currently on track to have the highest number of murders ever recorded, going all the way back to a record set in the late 1980s.

In January, Mayor Wheeler was arguing that even if the GVRT was still in place the surge in violent crime would have happened anyway. But at some point, Mayor Wheeler seems to have changed his mind. In early March he announced he was seeking funding for a new GVRT albeit with a different name and some new oversight.

If approved, the city would restore nearly all of the functions – though not the name – of the city’s Gun Violence Reduction Team, a program that was disbanded in 2020 in response to longtime community demands.

“We are not bringing it back,” Wheeler said. “To be clear, the part about GVRT that was objected to by many members of the community was that there wasn’t community oversight. There wasn’t clarity in terms of what the engagement was. There wasn’t the collection and the transparent dissemination of data.”

The new plan would create an independent watchdog to oversee the new program that will bring back many of GVRT’s functions.

How is the plan to get the band back together going? Today the Wall Street Journal reports that Portland can’t find officers willing to take positions on the new Focused Initiative Team. A total of 14 opening were announced in May. More than two months later, there have been only four applicants:

Portland officers say such positions, once considered prestigious, are now less desirable, given the increased scrutiny that accompanies them. The new unit has its own citizen-advisory board, instituted after the old unit was criticized by city leaders for racial profiling. A job description says qualifications include the ability to fight systemic racism.

“They’re demonizing and vilifying you, and then they want to put you in a unit where you’re under an even bigger microscope,” said Daryl Turner, head of the union that represents Portland’s officers.

One of the qualifications for the new team is that applicants show the, “ability to identify and dismantle institutional and systemic racism in the bureau’s responses to gun violence.” That didn’t go over well with one veteran officer:

“Martin Luther King couldn’t dismantle systematic racism. Now you want a cop to do it?” a veteran Portland officer said of the new unit. “Nobody wants to be part of something that’s set up for failure.”…

The veteran Portland officer said his colleagues “are incredibly hesitant to do anything proactive because either they have a complaint filed against them or every stop is a fight.”

This is the Ferguson Effect in action. Things are especially bad in Portland because police there have faced some of the most vocal and violent opposition from the mayor, the city council and left-wing extremists attacking them in the streets. As a result, officers have been leaving the city for jobs making less money elsewhere.

So it’s not really surprising that no one wants to step up to be the tip of the spear on reducing violent crime in the city when they know the entire political machinery and the media are primed to blame police the first time something goes wrong. It’s gong to take a lot more money to get officers to take jobs in a city that despises the police than in one that supports them. In the meantime, residents are getting exactly what police warned would happen if these cuts were made.