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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How Diverse Are the Cops on Portland's Layoff Chopping Block?

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 11:59 AM

We reported last week about a tentative plan to keep the Portland Police Bureau—facing the prospect of losing more than two-dozen officers because of budget cuts—from having to lay off its most junior cops. That's no small feat, because those new hires, thanks to improved recruiting in recent years, happen to be some of the bureau's most diverse cops.

How diverse are we talking? The bureau has provided the Mercury a chart breaking down, by demographic marker, the 29 cops who could be affected by budget cuts. The percentage of women in the group matches up among some of the bureau's best recent hiring classes. And the percentage of white men is lower, by far, than the norm for the bureau and even citywide.

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A bit of money to help keep those officers employed, according to a plan floated by Commissioners Steve Novick and Nick Fish, would come from the city's insurance reserves. The one-time funding would let the bureau trim its ranks through retirements and natural attrition.

Although the work over has been largely incremental, the bureau over the past few years, under Chief Mike Reese and former Mayor Sam Adams, has actually put some effort into getting away from merely importing large clumps of white men.

As I reported in 2011, out of some 67 cops hired in 2009 and 2010, only one was African American and none was Latino. And as of 2009, only 33 out of nearly 1,000 cops were black—about half the rate in Portland's overall population, according to census information. Those numbers came in a column pooh-poohing the bureau winning a diversity award based on its early diversity efforts.

But those new figures above? They are a small measure of proof that the police bureau has kept pushing in the right direction. Could the bureau move faster and harder? Undoubtedly. But consider that more than 76 percent of Portlanders are white. That number, among newly hired cops, falls to 72 percent.

Even Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, who called the 2011 award a "joke," acknowledges there's something meaningful in that.

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