Portland Facing a Rise in Crime and an Increase in Wait Times for 911 Calls Due to the Defund the Police Effort

Officials from Portland, Oregon have declared that their 911 emergency call system is “broken.” Apparently, callers who need urgent help are now having to wait more than two minutes for assistance, even though the goal is for calls to be answered in approximately 15 seconds. According to the Oregonian, “People calling 911 to report a Sept. 4 shootout at a Pearl District restaurant and other emergencies in the following half-hour waited an average of more than 7.5 minutes before a dispatcher answered. The lengthy hold time is far above the national standard of 15 to 20 seconds for 911 calls and the latest example of serious problems plaguing the city’s emergency dispatch system.” A Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications official called the situation “horrible” and “broken.” They said the agency’s own statistics show “an average hold time of a minute. But it also shows a dramatic increase of 911 calls on hold for two minutes or longer starting in late spring and summer.” The Oregonian also reported a significant increase of calls on hold for more than five minutes that happened in May and July. This is according to the Bureau figures that were released to the newsroom. “Compared to March, when only eight 911 calls took more than five minutes to answer, that number increased to 221 in May and more than doubled to 574 in July,” The Oregonian reported. To make matters even worse, the city of Portland is struggling with an increase in crime. Homicides, which are low compared to other major cities, are spiking. Portland’s KGW reported, “Homicides in Portland increased from 28 in 2019 to 54 in 2020. Among cities similar in size to Portland, Seattle saw an increase from 34 to 53 homicides, in Minneapolis, a spike from 48 to 82, and Milwaukee saw homicides increase from 97 to 190 from 2019 to 2020.” According to the Seattle Times, 37 people had died from homicide in Portland from the beginning of the year through May. That is more than a sevenfold increase compared to the first 5 months of last year. This is in contrast to the statistics in Seattle, which is a larger city. There have only been 11 homicides as of May in Seattle. Portland is having trouble keeping police officers because of the move to defund the police department. A few weeks ago, there were dozens of Portland police officers who resigned en masse from the city’s rapid response team. They were “citing a lack of support from city leaders. The move to disband the unit came one day after Portland Officer Cody Budworth was indicted and accused of striking a protester in the head last summer with a baton. It marked the first time a city police officer faced prosecution over striking or firing at someone during a protest,” according to Yahoo News. This is also affecting the emergency communications department. They are struggling to keep staff, with a dozen retirements or resignations over the past several months. All of this has caused one city official to say, “We’re at a tipping point now. It’s become unmanageable. The system is broken.” Some in leadership have proposed having the 311 city’s information line handle calls that are not necessarily urgent and need an emergency response. But, 311 operators only function from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays. The Democratic mayor of Portland created a stir among many in the city when he knowingly kept the police away from the violence that broke out at a protest last month. Mayor Ted Wheeler held a city council meeting on Wednesday, during which he said the “right strategy” was not employed to respond to the events of August 22. This was a protest that saw right-wing demonstrators and left-wing protesters clash with people armed with bats, paintball guns, fireworks, and bear mace, according to the Associated Press. “It is clear, based on the public outcry, on the media outcry, on the national front, that that strategy was not the right strategy,” Wheeler said. “I think we can all acknowledge that.”