Our Police Bureau Is Broken. We Need To Fix It.

For the past year, I’ve been telling Chief O’Dea that morale in the Portland Police Bureau is as low as I’ve ever seen it in my 24-year career, in large part because of catastrophically inadequate staffing levels. Chief O’Dea has ignored my message, causing a huge disconnect between the Chief and the rank-and-file members of the Police Bureau. This disconnect has grown to the point where the PPA’s rank-and-file members have lost faith in our leadership; a sentiment that has been echoed by many in the command staff ranks. It’s evident to the men and women who do the heavy lifting in the patrol, investigative, and support ranks that Chief O’Dea’s leadership style does not allow for meaningful input from the boots on the ground.

To make the magnitude of the problem clear, we recently conducted a survey of the PPA’s membership. Of our 855 members, 82% responded to our survey. The survey results are telling:

  • 96% rate overall morale at the Police Bureau as poor or below average.
  • 97% agree or strongly agree that low staffing levels are negatively impacting morale at the Police Bureau.
  • 79% believe that there is a high or very high relationship between Police Bureau staffing levels and crime rates.
  • 89% do not believe that the Chief’s five-shift configuration will resolve the Police Bureau’s patrol staffing shortage.
  • 93% do not believe that the Chief’s outside rotational support policy will resolve the Police Bureau’s patrol staffing shortage.
  • 85% rate the Police Bureau’s leadership as poor or below average.
  • 88% do not believe that the Police Bureau’s leadership is responsive to the input and recommendations of rank-and-file PPA members.
  • 85% do not believe that the Police Bureau rewards strong job performance.
  • 80% would not recommend employment with the Police Bureau to a friend or colleague.

Without a doubt, low morale amongst the rank-and-file in the Police Bureau has a significant, negative impact on our work within our community. We’re frustrated because insufficient staffing prevents us from proactively engaging the public, proactively preventing crime, and from investigating and solving crimes expeditiously.

It’s unacceptable that gang violence has spiked well beyond record levels in the last year. It’s unacceptable that people are gunned down in broad daylight in our City. It’s unacceptable that violent person crimes go unsolved. It’s unacceptable that we just don’t have enough officers and investigators to get the job done.

The Police Bureau is broken. Yet Chief O’Dea is either unable or unwilling to work with the PPA to implement meaningful short and long-term solutions to this problem. Instead, the Chief continues to rely on failed strategies like sector policing and the highly unpopular and ineffective five-shift configuration and outside rotational support policies for patrol. The five-shift configuration is especially ineffective because it actually lowers the number of uniformed officers patrolling our streets.

For the first time in my 24-year career, I’ve seen a disturbing trend of Portland Police Officers actively seeking employment elsewhere. Although the Portland Police Bureau is the largest police agency between Seattle and San Francisco, our rank-and-file officers and investigators no longer view it as the crown jewel law enforcement agency in the State of Oregon. Morale is dangerously low. Our officers and investigators are stretched too thin. Our members have lost faith in our Chief of Police to lead us out of this mess.

The problem is simple: we are short-staffed. The solution is also simple: we need to increase Police Bureau staffing by recruiting the best candidates and by retaining our current crop of quality rank-and-file employees.

The results of this survey should serve as an eye-opener to our Police Bureau leaders and City Council. We all must act fast to fix this problem.

Daryl Turner, President
Portland Police Association