Fuzzy math

While reading a Portland police press release about the latest murder over the weekend, I noticed a link on the page to "open data." I clicked on it and found a warehouse worth of material of which I had previously been unaware.

All sorts of statistics are compiled there, including various "dashboards" about such matters as crime statistics, shooting incidents, crimes by business district, and everybody's favorite, "officer involved shootings." I thought, No wonder you can never find a cop when you need one. They're all busy building fancy web pages.

Anyway, the one I found most revealing was the one on police staffing levels. As of last week, they're showing:

    • Sworn Members: 801
    • Officers: 542
    • Officers in Training: 103

    • Patrol Officers: 305
    • .......East Officers: 100
    • .......Central Officers: 107
    • .......North Officers: 98...

    • Authorized Sworn: 882
    • Sworn Vacancies: 81

    • Authorized Officers: 605
    • Officer Vacancies: 63...

    • Separations Last 6 Months: 33
    • Sworn: 24
    • Professional Staff: 9

    • New Hires Last 6 Months: 99
    • Sworn: 46
    • Professional Staff: 53


    • Authorized Sworn 2021: 882
    • Authorized Sworn 2020: 916
    • Authorized Sworn 2019: 1001
    • Authorized Sworn 2009: 1004
    • Authorized Sworn 2005: 1035

What to pull out of this pack of numbers? First of all, there are only 305 cops on patrol in the whole city. I believe they work four days a week, and so on any given day I presume you get 4/7ths of that number, or 174 a day. If there are two shifts, that's 87 per shift. If there are three shifts, it's 58.

Whether it be 87 officers out there at a time or 58, it's an awfully small number in a city of 641,000 people, in more than 130 square miles, undergoing crime, gun violence, and drug crises.

Okay, they're trying. Apparently they've hired 46 "sworn" personnel in the last six months. But 24 have left, for a net gain of only 22.

And then there are the "authorized sworn" numbers. Right now the City Council would allow them to have 882. Back in 2019 that number was 1001. That 12 percent cut in personnel budget didn't help matters. Thanks, Chloe, Amanda, and Jo Ann. You three were brilliant, and we're all so glad to see your utopian visions fully realized.

Of course, all of these numbers are just the ones the cops want us to see. I wouldn't trust them to be completely forthright; police rarely are. They are storytellers as much as anything else. But the stats make for some interesting reading when you should be doing something else.


  1. Add another factor to the officer history trends for more perspective. In 2005 Portland's population was 536,000 versus today's 641,000. This means that the authorized sworn ratio has moved from one officer per 517 people to one per 727 people, or from a ratio of 1.93 officers per 1,000 population to 1.27/1,000. The national average for all cities is 2.3/1,000 with those above 250,000 averaging 2.6/1,000. Interestingly, the PNW has the lowest ratios in the country. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2019/crime-in-the-u.s.-2019/tables/table-71

  2. Same comment as on the "Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood" post -- this is just chickens coming home to roost. After WWII, we went all-in on a totally unsustainable model of development that was predicated on economic growth continuing to infinity and beyond, and we never budgeted maintenance and replacement of anything into our plans. We've become addicted to federal injections of money, but each such injection only gets us more liabilities we can't afford to maintain, which we pretend are assets for a little while. We have post-Reagan levels of taxation but dream about the levels of service we had with FDR-Eisenhower tax rates, long before Measures 5 and 50 gutted revenues. Wherever you look, you see seams coming apart because you can't fit a 6' queen blanket over an 8' Cal King bed, no matter how hard you pull at it. So, just one aspect of the story: we get fewer and fewer cops, at much higher pay, with ridonkulous levels of armaments and then we keep having to pay out settlement after settlement after settlement for over-armored misbehavior.

    There's no one to tax but us, and we're allergic to that, so cities do what cities do on the down slope -- cut services without ever owning up to it. As those chickens coming home to roost crap on everything, it makes those with the ability to do so flee to get out of the target zone, and poof, the whole thing comes down.

    There's a very smart guy named Chuck Marohn who has been saying for a long time that America had better pay attention to Detroit because they bankrupted themselves after having been one of the world's wealthiest cities, and that Detroit isn't an anomaly, it's just the first of many to follow. Portland seems intent on proving him right.



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