A survey conducted by The Oregonian found that 75% of Portland residents do not want to decrease police presence in the city despite last year’s protests calling for defunding the police.
Of the 75% who were pro-police, half wanted more police on the streets and 24% did not want to see further decreases to policing levels.
The poll surveyed 600 adult residents in the Portland metro region between April 30 and May 6.
One survey participant, Brandon Lane, said it makes sense to strengthen the police force amid a surge in shootings and homelessness in a city dealing with the pandemic and violent protests.
Lane said, “I’m not sure that it needs to be drastically higher, but if we defund or reduce the headcount any further, we’re likely to be inviting bigger problems.”
Despite the clear support for law enforcement in the city and only a small minority of respondents to the poll wishing for further decreases in police presence, city officials and activists continue to demand reductions in police budgets and activity.
Following the death of George Floyd last year, the city of Portland reduced its police spending by $16 million. According to Newsweek, the loss of funds forced the department to dissolve its Gun Violence Reduction Team, School Resource Officers and Transit Division Program. Then, in the fall this year, the city council made a failed attempt to further reduce funds by an additional $18 million.
The defunding narrative seems to be backfiring. In March this year, Mayor Ted Wheeler called for additional law enforcement funding to combat increasing homicides in the city. At the time of his request, there had been 20 homicides in Portland and more than 200 shootings.
In addition, the poll found that most respondents think Portland is less safe than it was a year ago, with 53% feeling “very unsafe” in downtown Portland at night. However, the city did not heed the mayor’s call or pay attention to the majority sentiment.
Instead of funding Portland police, the mayor and city council ended up approving roughly $6 million for community organizations to do “anti-violence work” and to respond to homelessness and mental health crises.
Wheeler responded to the survey results in a statement, saying, “I appreciate this feedback showing that investing in police and the public safety system as a whole continues to be a priority for the community. The issue of accountable policing and public safety can be both controversial and difficult to do it right.”
The city plans to add a budget of $5.7 billion to the police bureau next year, but only $5.2 million will go to hiring 30 more officers. The rest of the money will go towards the Portland Street Response Program, a “non-police alternative” to public safety that includes first responders such as social workers and paramedics.