The Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau has been forced to close down its cold case unit in order to maintain adequate staffing levels within its homicide division as violent crime remains high in the city.
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell informed the department of the decision in a memo, in which he stated that six detectives from the cold case unit would be added to the homicide division, which currently consists of 18 detectives split into two teams. The police chief called the workload “unsustainable,” and hopes to add a third team of eight detectives to the unit.
Lovell explained that the sergeant who now leads the cold case unit will be appointed supervisor for the third detail of detectives. Two detectives will be moved from the cold case unit to respond to active homicide cases, with additional help from four property crime investigations detectives.
Lovell called the move a “difficult decision,” but cited increasing homicides in the city and a thinning homicide unit as reasons for the decision.
He also assured that the shutdown will be temporary, and hopes to resurrect the unit when resources are increased.
Lovell told The Oregonian that the situation is not ideal, “but we just need to put more resources toward the current homicides.”
This year, 33 people have died in homicides in Portland, all but one in shootings, according to data from the newspaper. So far, only nine of the 31 homicides (not counting two police shootings) have been cleared.
Jessie Burke, chair of the Old Town Community Association, blamed two recent shooting deaths on ineffective policing.
“They lost their lives because our city and county lack the urgency to find an immediate solution,” Burke said.
The Police Bureau faces a long-running staffing shortage, with 110 vacancies out of an authorized strength of 882 sworn members. The issue may be exacerbated when 40 sworn bureau members become eligible to retire in July.
The bureau’s now-defunct cold case homicide unit website lists more than 220 names of victims from unsolved homicide cases dating back to the late 1960s. The cold case squad was formed in 2005 by former Chief Derrick Foxworth. It was originally a five-member unit consisting of three Portland police officers, an FBI agent and an investigator from the district attorney’s office.
The move to shut down the unit comes after a weekend of “strained resources” where police responded to five shootings, three car crashes, a stolen ambulance and a rowdy protest convoy within a 12-hour period.
The bureau was forced to respond solely to “life-safety calls,” and said that it was unable to respond to lower-priority calls.