A recent audit of Portland's gang enforcement team has city commissioners questioning Mayor Ted Wheeler's request to add nearly one hundred new police officers to the force makes sense.
The audit, which we wrote about in March, details how Portland Police Bureau's gang enforcement team stops a disproportionate number of African American drivers for traffic violations, under the assumption the drivers could be involved in a gang. However, auditors weren't able to definitely say Portland's officers weren't profiling drivers by their race, since PPB hadn't been collecting the data needed to prove or disprove this. This audit was released alongside another showing that PPB was still keeping an informal list of active gang members, despite Wheeler's request to stop.
Wheeler called the audits' findings "deeply disappointing."
Meanwhile, Wheeler, whose office oversees the PPB, has been pushing to pass a city budget that funnels $12.3 million toward PPB, in part to cover the salaries of 93 new sworn officers. In doing so, Wheeler's requested commissioners make substantive cuts to their bureaus before the total budget goes to a vote at the end of April. Right now that leaves three community centers, an invasive plant mitigation plan, a program that promotes civic engagement for older adults, and a full-time street sweeping service on the cutting board—among others.
Commissioners already aren't thrilled about making major cuts to their bureaus, but today's presentation about a mismanaged, problematic police program seemed to add fuel to the fire.
"Given the results of this audit, I’m not convinced that this is the best use of these existing resources," said Comissioner Chloe Eudaly, referring to Wheeler's budget ask. "While I am open to conversations around the police budget and staffing, I want to make sure that we are making the best use of our existing sworn officers."
Comissioner Amanda Fritz, who has been particularly vocal in opposing cuts to the Portland Parks Bureau (which she oversees), echoed Eudaly. "I’m not entirely convinced that increasing the number of patrol officers is necessary based on this audit," Fritz said.
Wheeler, however, saw the commissioners' doubt as a challenge.
"A quick vote as of this moment tells me I don't have support for increasing the police bureau budget, at all," said Wheeler, after hearing from his fellow commissioners on the dais. "So what I’m hearing is 'Make the case.' And I will rise to that challenge."