Illustration by Ryan Alexander-Tanner

A YEAR AGO, as the scalpels of budget season were glinting in the March sunshine, the Portland Police Bureau seemed marked for some serious invasive surgery.

A citywide budget study helmed by Commissioners Nick Fish and Steve Novick had just suggested the bureau was obscenely top-heavy. It found redundancy among high-paying positions, and recommended 22 command positions be incised.

Cops weren't happy. Then-Police Chief Mike Reese dismissed the study's suggestions as unrealistic and potentially disastrous. And, partly because the city's budget outlook was far better than the relative bloodbath the year before, police escaped the knife.

But if there's a beauty to the yearly budget dance, it's in the cycles, the repetition. On Wednesday, April 8, city council will hear another set of findings about the police bureau—this one very different.

A private consulting company that just took a hard look into the department's staffing says cops should be adding more than 27 positions, not cutting. Researchers at the California firm Matrix Consulting Group also say in their report the bureau could perhaps shed three command staffers—not 22. And it should reshuffle resources to better combat problems like auto theft and computer crimes, while taking cops away from burglaries, robberies, and gangs.

By design, the study's a deeper, more police-specific look at the bureau's realities than last year's report. And it's perfectly positioned—in a year when Portland has $31 million more than expected—to play a role in Mayor Charlie Hales' proposed budget, anticipated in the next month or so.

"The timing was set so we could be making decisions right now," Dana Haynes, the mayor's chief spokesman, says of the staffing report. "This might be a year where we get to do some investing in all bureaus—not just police."

It's a very different place from where the cops were a year ago. But this being budget season, there's also that repetition.

For the first time in years, the police bureau's requested budget didn't offer up its five-person Mounted Patrol Unit—the horse cops—as a potential cut. New Chief Larry O'Dea explained to city council he'd avoided the unit, and similar "sacred cows," in favor of proposing trims throughout the bureau.

That didn't work. The horse police are on the table anyway.

"It's time to talk about the mounted patrol again," Commissioner Amanda Fritz said at a budget hearing for the police bureau in late March.

Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Novick, the only other councilmembers present, piled on. Novick—a critic of both the mounted patrol and the Drugs and Vice Division—questioned why O'Dea would favor eliminating cops from patrol, traffic, and gang duty instead of killing a unit many see as superfluous.

"For me, it comes down to what the community wants," the chief replied. It's true the mounted unit generates more heat than perhaps any other. For the last two years, the group Friends of the Mounted Patrol has subsidized the horse cops with $200,000 in annual donations rather than see it wither.

But with that money drying up this year—and with the cops in need of a new stable—this police budget is looking more familiar all the time.