Mathieu Lewis-Rolland

According to the Portland Police Bureau's (PPB) calculations, the ongoing protests that have called for cuts to the bureau's budget will contribute to PPB going over its approved annual budget by at least $1.5 million.

PPB outlined this prediction in a memo to the City Budget Office in preparation for the city's upcoming budget check-in, dubbed the Fall Budget Monitoring Process (BMP). The Fall BMP is an opportunity for City Council to evaluate the current city budget, which was approved by council in late June, and adjust where necessary. City Council is scheduled to vote on BMP adjustments in late October.

PPB's memo, sent on September 9, explains that it's the cost of overtime pay for police officers assigned to protests that will ultimately push the bureau over budget before the end of the fiscal year, in June 2021.

"Confidence in [budget] projections is diminished by unpredictable factors: current protest expense, and expense for anticipated protests at election timeā€”neither of which have any allowance in the budget," the memo reads.

It's no secret officers have been collecting sky-high overtime pay due to the continuous protests. PPB previously reported a 198 percent increase in overtime hours in Juneā€”which saw the current movement's largest demonstrationsā€”compared to May. According to the PPB memo, officers' response to protests represented 63 percent of all overtime hours worked in the first six weeks of the fiscal year, which began on July 1.

"Overtime response to demonstrations in June of [fiscal year] 2019-20 exceeded any monthā€™s spending in bureau history," reads the memo.

PPB attributes much of this overtime to a recent string of retirements (51 in August alone) and a growing number of new officers who aren't trained to work protests yet (COVID-19 has delayed this required officer training). Leaders within PPB and its rank-and-file union have made clear that this problem can be easily solved by hiring more officers.

But Portland City Council, in response to the local protests against police brutality and racial injustices, has focused on PPB staff and department reductions to signal a shift in the city's reliance on law enforcement.

In June, City Council approved an additional $15 million reduction to PPB's proposed budget for the fiscal year, inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests. These cut coincided with a requirement for all city bureaus to take a one-time 5.6 percent budget cut due to a COVID-19's predicted drop in city revenue.

As of now, PPB still needs to slash $3.3 million during the BMP to meet that 5.6 percent goal. In the memo, PPB proposed meeting that goal by cutting some technology redundancies and delaying an update to older vehicles. Yet these adjustments still don't account for the predicted $1.5 million extra in budget spending.

And $1.5 million is the low endā€”the memo notes several other areas that could spur PPB overspending by millions more.

For instance, if the city doesn't change its response to protests, PPB expects overtime costs for the 2020-21 fiscal year to come in $2 million over budget, at $15.6 million.

Portland Budget Director Jessica Kinard, who's spent a decade analyzing city budgets, says she's never seen this level of predicted budget change in a law enforcement budget.

"In a typical year, our office would recommend PPB wait and see if they can allocate resources over the coming months," said Kinard. "But, this isn't a typical year."

Typically, when bureaus hint that they'll need to spend over budget, the city allows that bureau to dip into extra reserves. But, due to COVID-19's impact on the city budget, those reserves are nearly empty. That leaves PPB with few options but to look inward, especially because the majority of budget expenses come from personnel costs.

Asked what that could look like, Kinard said that's a discussion for City Commissioners to have.

"But the magnitude of the scale of that conversation could be massive," she said. "Based on what I've been hearing from the community."

And officers' protest work isn't only hurting PPB's budget. The City Attorney's Office is requesting an additional $210,000 this fall to cover the salary of an additional attorney to help the city fight a "significant" increase in lawsuits related to PPB's response to protests.

"The Police Bureau's response to the demonstrations has resulted in significant increased litigation for the office in a very short period of time. These lawsuits include three class action cases and numerous individual lawsuits alleging excessive force and constitutional violations," a BMP memo from the City Attorney's Office reads. "We expect more protest related cases to be filed, and the legal work defending these cases will last years."

Editor's Note: The Mercury is a plaintiff in one of those class action cases.

Council staff anticipate that commissioners will propose amendments to slash PPB's budgetary overdraft during an October 28 vote. Those amendments may be shaped by public testimony, scheduled for September 22 and October 6.