Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler backed off of a proposal to increase police funding by $2 million and instead will be giving $6 million to community groups and will hire 24 park rangers in an attempt to decrease gun violence.
“What we’re doing today is starting a pathway towards making sure that we’re investing dollars where they make the most good,” said Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. “We’re also at the front end of transforming our police department.”
The deal asks the Portland Police Bureau to create a new gun violence team to replace a similar one disbanded in June when the city defunded its police department by $15 million.
The new group, called the Focus Intervention Team, will be smaller than the previous Gun Violence Reduction Team and will have “civilian oversight.” Police Chief Chuck Lovell said it will be difficult to find officers who want to work in the new taskforce and it will create more shortages in the understaffed department.
“We’re so lean right now, it’s really hard to find a place where there’s a dozen officers to pull from,” said Lovell.
The Portland Police Bureau’s budget is down $27 million compared to last year and the department has lost about 20% of its police force. During exit interviews, the Oregonian reports that nearly all of the officers who left said it was because of the efforts of local politicians to defund the police.
The park rangers being hired are not trained or equipped to prevent armed conflicts.
“Park rangers aren’t really going to have an impact,” said Jim Ferraris, president of the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police. “That’s not what they’re trained for, that’s not what they’re hired for, that’s not what they signed up for. They don’t even have ballistic vests for protection.”
Park rangers only have pepper spray and and a radio. On April 3rd, park rangers ran from a man with a machete, then called the police. Despite this, a park ranger supervisor still thinks that unarmed and untrained rangers can stop gun violence.
“The Park Ranger program is a unique model that relies on rangers having a specific set of skills and training that includes de-escalation, crises management, anti-bias, cultural competency to gain voluntary compliance,” said Vicente Harrison of Portland Parks and Recreation.