Poll: 2 out of 3 Portland residents want more cops
Respondents also called for more body cameras and unarmed crisis response teams
By Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
PORTLAND, Ore. — A vast majority of Portlanders say they want a beefed-up public safety system that includes officer-worn body cameras, expansion of unarmed paramedics and social workers to assist those in crisis and — overwhelmingly — more cops, according to a poll commissioned by a dark money group that wants the same things.
Two-thirds of likely Portland voters said an increase in police officers is needed to combat violent crime, according to the poll commissioned by People for Portland, which launched in August and does not disclose its donors.
The poll repeatedly probed whether city voters favor expanding and reforming the city’s police agency, not simply adding more officers with the same training and assignments officers currently have.
“There’s a huge opportunity for Portland to lead the way with creating a police and public safety force of the future,” said Dan Lavey, a longtime political strategist and People for Portland co-founder. “Portlanders want action taken right now.”
The well-heeled effort is trying to place local elected leaders in the hot seat, demanding they take more immediate and aggressive action on policing, homelessness and trash. It has placed ads on TV and online and directed a mass emailing campaign to members of the Portland City Council, Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, Metro Council and state lawmakers who represent Portland.
Its latest findings come as the Portland City Council faces mounting pressure amid officer staffing shortages, fits and starts with reimagining public safety and a record number of shootings and homicides across the city.
Later this month Mayor Ted Wheeler and the city’s four commissioners, flush with a record windfall of revenue, are likely to consider pouring millions of additional dollars into public safety programs.
The poll surveyed 600 likely Portland voters between Sept. 22 and 27 and was conducted by GS Strategy Group, an Idaho-based firm with longstanding ties to Republican candidates. It had a 4% margin of error.
Those who took part in the poll overwhelmingly identified as white, comprising 80% of all participants, while Black people made up 2% and Latinos and Asians comprised 7% and 3%, respectively.
Portland’s current racial and ethnic makeup is 68% white, 8% Black, 11% Latino and 10% Asian, census figures show. Some communities of color have long accused the city’s police force of targeting them disproportionately.
According to the poll, 71% of residents said they felt less safe in their neighborhoods compared to a year ago and 66% said they believed the city needs more police officers to address violent crime and public safety.
Just 17% of Portlanders said the city has the right amount of police officers to tackle those issues while 8% said the city would better curb violent crime with fewer cops.
Those findings are similar to, but more in favor of adding police officers, than a poll conducted by Portland firm DHM Research for The Oregonian/OregonLive in May. That poll found 42% of Portland adults wanted an increase in police officers while another 30% said they preferred staffing to remain at their current levels.
During the People for Portland poll, participants were told the Portland Police Bureau currently has 300 fewer officers than “the recommended minimum” for a city its size and then asked how many new officers the city should hire.
Fifty-three percent of respondents said Portland should hire 200 or more additional police officers, including 50% of those who identified as a person of color, while 19% said the city should hire less than that and 28% didn’t know or refused to answer the question.
Several proposed public safety reforms received sky-high support, including the use of body cameras by officers (96%), doubling the size of the Portland Street Response program (89%) and a more community-focused approach to policing that would include hiring more officers of color and requiring the city’s cops to live in Portland (87%), according to the poll.
And 87% also said they’d be in favor of a potential plan by Portland City Council members that would rehire 80 recently retired police officers, require all cops to wear body cameras on the beat and expand Portland Street Response, which sends unarmed public safety workers to assist people experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis.
Still, the group’s polling data suggest many remain wary of the Portland Police Bureau even as they say they would like to see more officers. Forty-one percent of Portlanders said they continue to hold an unfavorable view of the bureau, compared to 50% who see the city’s police force in a favorable light, it found.
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