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Portland leaders agree to spend millions more on police, public safety

The plan calls to hire back 25 retired police officers, buy bodycams and attract 200 more sworn officers

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Portland City Hall in Portland, Oregon.

Michelle Brence | The Oregonian

By Shane Dixon Kavanaugh

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a $44 million spending plan to bolster policing and public safety, assist those living on the streets and clean up garbage and debris generated at campsites across the city.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and city commissioners delivered the 5-0 decision amid mounting frustration over a deepening homelessness crisis, record shootings and homicides and trash that continues to line commercial and residential blocks.

In recent weeks, hundreds of residents submitted written and public testimony to City Hall decrying what they described as rising disorder and despair.

[Read: Portland to spend $500,000 on benches to stop homeless from camping near parks]

“There are many paths to improvement,” Wheeler said, “but the uniting sentiment throughout these testimonials was an overwhelming want for meaningful and immediate action.”

But even as the massive cash infusion aims to address some of Portland’s most pervasive and contentious issues, city leaders acknowledged its limitations.

“This budget doesn’t solve everything,” said Commissioner Carmen Rubio. “We need to focus on systemic inequities and problems. There is so much more work that needs to be done.”

[RELATED: With decreased resources, how will the police continue to provide quality services?]

Portland officials learned last month that the city expected a windfall of $62 million, primarily from a local business tax on large companies

Elected leaders and their staffers spent the next several weeks crafting a spending proposal mostly behind closed doors.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who last year spearheaded the effort to slash $15 million from the Portland Police Bureau amid the city’s racial justice protests, criticized what she called its “lack of process, transparency and public engagement” during Wednesday’s council meeting.

Her vote in support of the final proposal came with deep reservation and choice words for some of its core components.

“I do not want to mislead the public. Nothing we do today will change conditions on the street overnight,” Hardesty said. “Attempting to mitigate crime through adding police is one of the most expensive, least effective and least urgent responses that council could have taken.”

The spending plan authorizes more than $7 million to hire back 25 retired police officers, buy body-worn cameras and boost recruitment to attract 200 more sworn officers and 100 unarmed public safety specialists in the next three years.

[RELATED: Reactivating retirees for police service in times of crisis]

An additional $19 million would go toward a joint city of Portland and Multnomah County plan to create hundreds of additional shelter beds, increase the number of outreach and behavioral health teams that help those living on the streets and double the size of a city program tasked with removing refuse from unsanctioned camps and often sweeping its inhabitants.

Meanwhile, the remaining funds would go toward dozens of additional city projects and programs. They include money to expand Portland Street Response, a program that provides non-police assistance to people experiencing homelessness or a mental health crisis.

“We’re doing what we can,” said Commissioner Dan Ryan, who urged compassion and patience among Portlanders. “Lean in with us, help us reestablish the connection between the head and the heart, and together let’s remember what the soul of our city is all about.”

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