In exit interviews, PPB officers say lack of city support is why they left

Published: Feb. 3, 2022 at 5:40 AM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - The Portland Police Bureau continues to deal with a massive staffing shortage, with about 100 unfilled sworn positions.

FOX 12 Oregon requested exit interview paperwork for employees who left the bureau “from May 2020 to present” three months ago and received the documents on Wednesday. The exit interviews sent to FOX 12 Oregon span from May of 2020 to September of 2021, around the height of the Portland protests and riots.

Many departing officers had strong words to share about feeling a lack of city leadership, burnout, and mental and physical health concerns. Of the 34 exit interviews, 24 (70 percent) specifically brought up lacking support from the city and problems within the bureau as the reason for leaving.

One officer said had their unit that they “worked so hard to be a part of were not defunded” and if more officers were working patrol “to cover high call volume,” they would have stayed longer with PPB.More strong words from other officers include “the city of Portland’s leadership is broken” and “what the city council has done to beat down the officer’s willingness to do police work is unfathomable.”

A lieutenant and member of the bureau for 22 years wrote “we have been deprived of our opportunity to serve.”

A few officers had so much to say, they didn’t even try to write it into the space provided and instead typed up pages of thoughts. One such officer wrote “the stress and anxiety I experience as a police officer has very little to do with police work. It has everything to do with the toxic environment that the city has cultivated over the past decade.”Another employee mentions leaving to work for another community that is more supportive. They wrote “the lack of support from local leaders and budget cuts to the bureau has damaged morale and made it a less attractive agency to work for.”Another officer wrote “I was planning on staying longer but Mayor Wheeler and the crazy commissioners are unable to keep officers safe.”

The other ten exit interviews either had blank comments sections, mentioned retirement or other personal reasons such as scheduling preferences as the reason for leaving.

Since the last of those exit interviews, the city council did approve an additional $7 million for public safety. That happened in November of 2021, following $15 million in cuts to the police budget back in 2020.

According to data from PPB, the bureau is the smallest it has been in decades, with 882 sworn members of all ranks and 101 current vacancies.

The number of officers has shrunk to 523 for the entire city, about one officer for every 1,247 Portlanders. A PPB spokesperson said there are simply not enough police officers to serve the volume of calls.”We have to prioritize what we can do based on our resources. These days, we are not able to offer the kind of service people expect or that we wish we could provide. That is something we have been talking with our community about for months,” PPB Sgt. Kevin Allen said in an email.

A community member emailed FOX 12 about a car crash that happened around 1:45 near Rose City Park Elementary School off Northeast 57th Street. Tina, who didn’t wish to share her last name, said a car slammed into a utility pole about 20 minutes prior to school being let out.

She said she and others at the scene waited 45 minutes before an officer arrived.

“It was more surprising because there were two people that were driving and they simply walked away,” Tina said over the phone, “we can’t continue to cut budget on something that we clearly need.”

Sgt. Allen wasn’t surprised to hear about this particular crash response.

“It is not surprising that people believe they aren’t seeing as quick a response, or as many officers on patrol, because there aren’t as many,” PPB Sgt. Kevin Allen said in an email. “The entire Traffic Division unit dedicated to traffic safety had to be sent back to patrol in February to help meet the demand for calls for service and limit overtime.”

In order to help fill vacancies, PPB launched a “retire-rehire” program to try to get retired officers back on the force. Only two people expressed interest by the deadline, Sgt. Allen told FOX 12.

The chief is considering opening the program to officers planning to retire this year, and possibly expanding it to sergeants and detectives.