Portland has fewer police officers per resident than other big cities, data show

The Portland Police Bureau has fewer officers per city resident and fewer minority officers than most other law enforcement agencies its size, a new national survey shows.

The city had 16 sworn officers per 10,000 residents in 2012, according to a survey released Thursday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Forty-four other major police departments had higher ratios.

Washington, D.C., was No. 1 in staffing with 61 sworn officers per 10,000 residents, the 2013 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics Survey shows.

Portland trailed Seattle’s 20 officers per 10,000 residents and San Francisco’s 26 per 10,000.

Most of the departments with more police per capita had higher violent crime rates, but not in every case. There were more officers per capita in Austin, Texas; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Columbus, Ohio, but they had lower violent crime rates than Portland.

Portland officials hired a consultant to analyze staffing last summer. Matrix Consulting recommended adding 27.5 positions as part of its suggested restructuring.

Deanna Mitchell-Wesson, policy director for Mayor Charlie Hales’ office, views the Matrix study as a better guide for staffing decisions than a comparison of cities’ officers per capita.

She described the officer-per-resident ratio in an email as “an easy and consistent number to measure across locales, but it does not take other key matters into consideration (including: community expectations for policing practices, level of community of engagement desired, the number of calls for service, and geography).”

Officer Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, did not immediately return a call for comment, but he has often argued that the bureau is understaffed.

“The paramount issue here is we don’t have enough people here,” he said in response the the Matrix study findings.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics occasionally surveys law enforcement agencies with more than 100 employees and a representative sample of smaller agencies, asking questions about employee numbers and demographics, pay, training, policies and equipment. The last survey in this series was conducted in 2007.

The most recent findings included gains in racial and gender diversity among sworn officers.

Nationwide, about 27 percent of police officers were members of a racial or ethnic minority in 2012, the survey showed. That compares to 15 percent in 1987.

Bigger departments tended to be more diverse. In departments serving cities about the same size as Portland — between 500,000 and 999,999 residents — about 4 out of 10 sworn officers was a member of a racial or ethnic minority.

But Portland’s diversity figures more resemble national numbers from the late 1980s, and the difference isn’t fully explained by the city’s status as one of the whitest major metropolitan areas.

Data released by Portland’s Office of Management and Finance show that 15 percent of sworn officers belonged to a racial or ethnic minority last fiscal year.

Of 932 sworn officers, 6 percent were Asian, 4 percent black, 4 percent Hispanic, 1 percent American Indian and 1 percent of two or more races.

By contrast, the U.S. Census Bureau most recently estimated Portland’s population was 8 percent Asian, 6 percent black, 9 percent Hispanic, 1 percent American Indian and 5 percent of two or more races.

The bureau has been trying to increase diversity, in part by recruiting in more diverse cities, including Chicago and New York. But the percentages haven’t changed much in the last eight years.

In fiscal year 2006, 7 percent of sworn employees were Asian, 3 percent were black, 2 percent were Hispanic and 1 percent were American Indian, data from the Office of Management and Finance show.

“As economies improve we will need to continue engaging with our local, including our newer, communities of color for future police officers,” Wesson-Mitchell said.

Portland followed national trends in its share of female sworn officers.

In 2014, 16 percent of the police bureau’s sworn employees and 26 percent of all its employees were women.

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