F.I. Goldhaber

Police ≠ Public Safety

(Photo by Tito Texidor III on Unsplash)

We’ve known for decades what works and what doesn’t to reduce violence and crime. And nothing involving police makes any positive difference.

 

For more than 100 days over the summer of 2020, thousands of Portlanders took to the streets to protest racial injustice, especially police brutality against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. Those protests were met by the Portland Police with horrific violence which included:

 

  • filling the streets with chemical weapons (poisoning from which many have yet to fully recover);
  • beating people (including random residents who were not protest participants) with batons, fists, and weighted gloves;
  • firing impact munitions at close range into people’s chests, backs, heads, faces; and
  • arresting them on spurious charges.

 

The results were miniscule, mostly superficial, changes to the outrageously out-of-proportion percentage of the city budget flowing into Portland Police Bureau (PPB) coffers. The city even refused to increase funding for the Portland Street Response, the one public safety initiative that actually was helping people, because the Portland Police Association (PPA), which represents Portland Police officers and protects their jobs even when they murder unarmed civilians, objected.

Yet, last month when the City Budget Office announced a $62 million general fund surplus ahead of the Fall Budget Monitoring Process, Mayor Edward Tevis “Ted” Wheeler quickly maneuvered to give a significant amount of that money to the police.

Wheeler, who is also the Portland Police Commissioner, immediately came up with erroneously named “public safety programs” to add almost $8 million, more than a quarter of the $31 million of the surplus allocated for city programs, to the PPB’s already bloated budget. His proposal includes:

 

  • hiring additional white supremacist bullies police officers, with no evidence more cops reduce crime;
  • allowing recently retired officers, who timed their departure to maximize their retirement benefits, to double dip return to work;
  • paying a $25,000 (more than many Portland residents earn in a year) signing bonus to “qualified” applicants;
  • wasting almost $3 million on body-worn cameras[1] (BWCs)—which have no proven impact on police misconduct—despite the fact that only data showing BWCs increase police accountability were gathered in flawed studies created by manufacturers to sell cameras; and
  • dropping $225,000 on the Gang Enforcement Team (GET) Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT) Focused Intervention Team (FIT) Office of Violence Prevention to “assist gun violence reduction work.”

 

Wheeler also wants to further persecute insecure, already-suffering, often-despondent, and scared unhoused residents by carving a significant amount of money from funds allocated to help them and instead use that money to “increase homeless camp cleanups, or sweeps, ‘fivefold.’”

Last Wednesday, almost 300 Portlanders spent seven hours (mostly) telling the City Commissioners not to spend any of the surplus on more cops. Those who testified in favor of expanding the police department, including business owners who erroneously believe that police prevent burglaries and robberies, spoke without evidence that more cops would solve the problems they presented. They repeated copaganda and used talking points promulgated by the dark-money lobbying group People for Portland that pushes a pro-cop narrative and falsely accuses unhoused Portlanders of perpetuating crime.

Those who spoke against expanding the police department more often cited actual facts. “‘The mayor peddles law enforcement as a deterrent to crime,’ said Seemab Hussaini, an organizer with Unite Oregon. ‘These solutions aren’t based on sound data.’”

In fact, only two days before this meeting, a data analyst, a community organizer, and a public health researcher released a report which uses the Portland Police Bureau’s own statistics to prove that there is absolutely “no correlation between crime levels in Portland and officer staffing levels.” Analyzing almost six years of data points, they found that increasing PPB staffing results in no decrease in crime. This directly contradicts the PPA contention that “The connection between the diminished police presence in Portland, the lack of and availability of resources, and the rise in crime is glaringly obvious.”

 

… a data analyst, a community organizer, and a public health researcher released a report which uses the Portland Police Bureau’s own statistics to prove that there is absolutely ‘no correlation between crime levels in Portland and officer staffing levels.’

 

Families of homicide victims were among those speaking out in favor of more police. But again, there is no data showing increasing police presence reduces homicides. “Police do not create safety,” Dr. Amara Enyia, policy and research coordinator for the Movement for Black Lives, stated. “Policing is largely reactionary. They come onto the scene after the fact.”

“While police and allies have attempted to use data to tie ‘bail reform’ and racial justice protests to this past year’s rise in murders,” Scott Hechinger, a civil rights attorney, wrote in The Nation, “those claims are contradicted by the geography of the rise in homicides, which occurred across the country: in red and blue states, in jurisdictions that have seen some measured wins for criminal and civil justice and those that haven’t, in jurisdictions that saw protests against police violence, and those that haven’t—and all despite massive police budgets.”

The report repeatedly cited by media sensationalizing the increase in murders—which might be a result of COVID confinement, mass unemployment, or a statistical fluke in historically low and decreasing violent-crime rates—also showed a decline in all other major crimes. If that information gets mentioned by the media, it’s buried.

In reality, additional police presence, which routinely results in oppressive surveillance of and violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, “makes communities less safe and less healthy,” Takenya Nixon Brail, a public defender in Cook County, Illinois, wrote in Teen Vogue. “Not only does policing fail to prevent violent crime, it creates conditions that allow for even more violence.”

 


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We’ve known for decades what works and what doesn’t to reduce violence and crime. And nothing involving police makes any positive difference including increased police presence, drug resistance education, copaganda police newsletters, scared straight schemes, and home detention or any other carceral programs.

If Portland, or any other city, really wanted to reduce crime and violence, they would redirect the funds sucked up by the police department and put it toward housing support (both for those already unhoused and those in danger of losing their housing), medical (including mental health) care, education (including early childhood education, and childcare programs for working parents, and job training), and food security. Reducing the number of cops would also remove some of the most violent, murderous, repeat offenders who consistently act as if the law does not apply to them from the streets of Portland.

Restorative justice approaches to addressing the root causes of violence and crime have been proven to result in actual improvements in public safety. But these aren’t as easy to condense to one-sentence hyperbole plastered on billboards across the city and don’t generate generous political donations from businesses and pro-police lobbyists. So, Wednesday, November 17th, the Portland City Council is expected to ignore data, the testimony of hundreds, the demands of organizations representing Black Portlanders such as the NAACP, and the protest of thousands. At least three of the five will vote to throw more millions of dollars at violent criminals with an erroneous expectation that will result in any public safety improvements.

 

[1] BWCs have been suggested by U.S. Department of Justice monitors of the city’s non-compliance with the DOJ Amended Settlement Agreement in its lawsuit against the city for abuse of people with mental health issues as one option for bringing the city into compliance. However, the policies required by the monitors are in direct opposition to those demanded by PPA.

 

F.I. Goldhaber

F.I. Goldhaber's words capture people, places, and politics with a photographer's eye and a poet's soul. As a reporter, editor, business writer, and marketing communications consultant, they produced news stories, feature articles, editorial columns, and reviews for newspapers, corporations, governments, and non-profits in five states. Now paper, electronic, and audio magazines, books, newspapers, calendars, broadsides, and street signs display their poetry, fiction, and essays.

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