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Portland, Oregon is poised to break their record-high of 70 homicides set in 1970; they’re at 53 already. And getting to the root of the city’s enforcement issues has been a bit of a bumpy ride.
- First, they disbanded their 38-person gun violence unit over criticisms of racial profiling — over 50% of the unit’s 2019 stops were of Black people even though they make up less than 6% of the city population.
- This dissolution was amidst a $15 million budget cut for Portland’s police department, but then homicides began to rise.
- In response, a new police unit was proposed, aimed at fixing tensions with residents and combating gun violence by identifying the leaders of violence (instead of stop-and-frisk). While the overseeing board of 11 community members has its nominees named, the police unit itself is still recruiting.
Problem is, nobody wants the job. Only four police officers have applied for the available 14 positions posted back in May. One officer attributes lack of interest to the latest requirement for the role: “the ability to identify and dismantle institutional and systemic racism in the bureau’s responses to gun violence.”
And both rising homicide rates and lackluster interest in police jobs is trending nationwide.
- One data consultant pointed to a 13% jump in the year-to-year murder rate in 2020 — the largest in over 50 years. Police reported a jump in Chicago of more than 50%, New York City ~40%, and Los Angeles 30%.
- Officer resignations also increased 18% alongside a 42% increase in retirements. Many officers are reluctant to take on roles that could lead to controversy or criticism.
Now, some politicians are pointing to these homicide records as proof for why we need more police, but others say the two are not correlated. Opponents to more policing point to the fact that crime overall has reduced by three percent. More specifically, robberies are down 10.4%, property crimes 7.9%, and rapes 14.2%. Some data suggests the rise in homicides is related to pandemic-driven stress as well as the temporary shutdown of courts and non-violence nonprofits.
So, what should be done? Minneapolis has a unique approach that could serve as a blueprint for reimagining public safety. The city is just one vote away from replacing their police department with a Department of Public Safety, an integrated group of first responders — namely police, trained medical professionals, and social workers. Instead of falling under the mayor and police chief’s domain, this department would be run by the 13-person city council. If passed by voters this November, it’d be the first major public safety shift of its kind in the country.
🎬 Take Action
Whether you’re for or against police reform, it’s helpful to understand what the term even means and calls for. The Human Rights Watch helps give context on their roadmap for reimagining public safety.
- Wall Street Journal: (Where we found this story) 1 week old | 9 mins long
- NPR: Massive rise in homicides 7 months old | 6 mins long
- The Guardian: A closer look at the rising and falling crime rates in the U.S. 2 months old | 14 mins long
- Vice: Minneapolis’ push for a Department of Public Safety 1 week old | 8 mins long