That’s how many police officers in the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) actually live in the city they’re sworn to protect. According to city data obtained by the Mercury in a public records request, only 158 of the bureau’s 864 sworn officers live at an address with a ZIP code that falls within Portland city limits. And that’s actually a generous estimate—some PPB officers live in ZIP codes that straddle several city boundaries.
Most of Portland’s police officers reside in suburbs south and east of the city, like Oregon City, Happy Valley, Gresham, and West Linn. Three officers live in Salem, and one officer inexplicably has a home address in Albuquerque, New Mexico. More PPB officers live in Washington state (177 total) than in Portland proper.
There’s at least one obvious reason why more PPB officers live in Battle Ground, Sandy, or Tigard than in the neighborhoods they’re paid to patrol: Portland’s prohibitively expensive housing market. But, as Portland City Council continues to greenlight officer salary hikes while lauding the importance of community policing programs, this data adds to the growing narrative that paints Portland law enforcement officials as outsiders.
During the most recent alt-right protest that brought busloads of agitators to Portland from Vancouver, Washington, Portlanders blamed PPB officers for being friendlier to the out-of-towners than to the city’s residents who protested the group’s hateful rhetoric. This perceived leniency reignited a discussion around how PPB officers may see Portlanders as an “other”—either for having differing political beliefs or for not living in the same communities as the officers.
“This isn’t their home,” said one protester I spoke with at an August ICE protest. “Why should they care about protecting it?”
The issue Portland and its police force face is hardly a new one: In the 1970s, a number of major American cities reinstated residency requirements for their law enforcement officers in hopes of improving both their city property tax revenue and the relationships between residents and police. But low recruitment rates and pushback from police unions forced most cities to drop the requirement; Chicago is one the few cities that still requires officer residency.
Portland has certainly tried to convince its officers to live within city limits, most recently promising PPB commanders and captains a 5 percent pay increase if they do—a promise that could cost the city up to $50,000 a year. While it’s unknown how many officers have taken the city up on this offer, Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith—a candidate for Portland City Council—has proposed a more radical solution, suggesting the city offer houses they’ve foreclosed on to police officers living outside city limits.
This month, city council approved a 7.6 percent pay increase for PPB lieutenants, securing them a $121,950 starting salary—more than enough to afford rent, if not a mortgage, in Portland proper. And according to market data, even the starting salary for a PPB officer—$64,409—is enough to comfortably afford a two-bedroom rental in Portland.
Maybe forcing officers to relocate isn’t the answer to Portland’s growing distrust in the PPB. But after a sweltering summer of protests that pitted locals against the cops, geography may be a good place to start.