Posted on August 6, 2021

Portland, Ore., Can’t Find Police for Unit to Fight Rising Murder Rate

Zusha Elinson, Wall Street Journal, August 2, 2021

Leaders in Portland, Ore., are looking to combat the city’s rising homicide rate by resurrecting a police unit focused on gun violence. But after a year of growing tension within the department, they can’t find enough officers to join.

Since 14 job openings were announced in May, only four police personnel have applied to work with the new version of Portland’s Gun Violence Reduction Team, which was shut down last year amid long-running protests seeking racial justice and an overhaul of police practices. None have yet been assigned.

Portland officers say such positions, once considered prestigious, are now less desirable, given the increased scrutiny that accompanies them. The new unit has its own citizen-advisory board, instituted after the old unit was criticized by city leaders for racial profiling. A job description says qualifications include the ability to fight systemic racism.

“They’re demonizing and vilifying you, and then they want to put you in a unit where you’re under an even bigger microscope,” said Daryl Turner, head of the union that represents Portland’s officers.

Portland police have coped with frequent late-night street violence in the past year, as well as criticism from politicians and activists {snip}


Homicide rates rose 24% in a sample of 32 American cities in the first quarter of 2021, compared with the same period last year, according to a recent study by the Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank focusing on criminal-justice policy and research. The rates are far below peaks from the 1990s.

But with 53 homicides so far this year, Portland is on pace to surpass its all-time high of 70 in 1987, according to Portland police officials. The trend is reversing Portland’s decadeslong history of having one of the lowest homicide rates among large cities.

Retirements and resignations are rising at departments across the country. There was an 18% increase in resignations and a 45% increase in retirements from April 2020 through March 2021, when compared with the same period a year earlier, according to a June survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C., think tank.


Following calls to defund the police, the Portland City Council last summer voted to cut $15 million from the police department, including the 38-person gun-violence team, which they criticized for racial profiling. In 2019, 52% of the team’s stops were of Black people, who make up 5.8% of the city’s population.

After the team was disbanded, homicides rose. This spring, Portland police officials proposed creating a new team.

In March, Mayor Ted Wheeler announced the new police unit, called the Focused Initiative Team, and said it would focus on lowering tensions with residents, along with combating gun violence. The Democrat said an 11-member board made up of community members would oversee it.

An internal posting described jobs on the Focused Initiative Team as focusing on the Portlanders most likely to be involved in gun violence, like the old unit. But it included a new list of required qualifications, including the “ability to identify and dismantle institutional and systemic racism in the bureau’s responses to gun violence.”