What Are We Paying For?

jake dockter
4 min readMar 18, 2021


Mayor Tevis E. Wheeler would love you to believe that the answer to the gun violence spike is more money and more cops. Wheeler’s recent press release, echoed by Portland Police, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese, and Matt Hennesse’s Interfaith Peace & Action Collaborative (IPAC) all tie gun violence rates to the 2020 defunding of PPB’s Gun Violence Reduction Taskforce. The solution they propose over and over is money, money, money. Wheeler says funds are the solution but a closer look at PPB’s record, shows that may be a waste of resources.

In a recent letter from IPAC, city staff and some community members provided these recommendations to Portland City Council:

We ask that you support our proposed City investments, outlined in the attachments, to expand community-based programs and enhance police services to help end cycles of violence on Portland’s streets.

They specifically ask for expanded resources for Office of Violence Prevention, IPR, and,

Image of black text on white that states: “Portland Police Bureau • Increase the Number and Speed of Gun Crime Investigations: -Fund the recently launched on-call team of officers who investigate shooting incidents. -Identify individuals at risk of violence (either as a perpetrator or a victim) for referral to the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) for wrap-around services or other interventions. - Increase by up to five the number of detectives available to follow up on injury shootings”

While avoiding the name GVRT, the inclusion of “re-establish a uniformed patrol team” is a wink at what they mean. Bottom line, all these demands mean more money, more cops.

With other recent moves by Wheeler, this appears to be the only game he knows how to play.

Screenshot from Oregonian: “Crime Mayor Ted Wheeler seeks $2 million to bring back uniformed police team to address spike in shootings Updated Mar 11, 2021; Posted Mar 11, 2021”
Screenshot from W Week article, states: “Mayor Ted Wheeler Will Seek to Bring Back Police Patrols to Reduce Portland Shootings Is this the Gun Violence Reduction Team again? He says no, but it looks familiar.”
Screenshot from Oregonian, states: Portland mayor proposed bringing back controversial Gun Violence Reduction Team: ‘Sell it to the new council ASAP’

However, the summer of 2020 brought tens of thousands of citizens into the streets demanding police accountability and change. Commissioners Eudaly and Hardesty reported thousands of calls and letters, setting records for community engagement. The majority of those calls asked to defund police, an institution rooted in racism and not in equitable public safety. The GVRT showed a commitment to racial profiling and targeted Black community members way above their representation in the community. Portland did cut the GVRT and other departments.

Now, Wheeler is beating the old funding drum again and we should ask, why? What are we paying for?

Since 2017, murder rates in Portland have been going up year over year.

Graph showing a red line and blue line. At the bottom is 2017 2018 and 2019. The red line, the murder rate, goes up each year. The blue line, clearances, goes down showing the gap widening
Source: FBI UCR

However, that same period of time shows the clearances (or solves) going down. Even over a broader range, say 20 years, PPB has only cleared 46% of murders. As someone shared on Twitter, that is better odds than a coin toss for getting away with murder in the Rose City.

Comparing to national trends Portland still shows poor performance. Nationally, police solved 61.4% of murders in 2019. PPB came 20 pts below the national, at 41%.

If you compare against other cities of our size (500,000 to 999,999) the average murder clearance rate is 54.7%. PPB is still behind by 8+ pts.

Graph showing 2017 to 2019 Murder vs. Clearance rates for PPB and National. PPB graph shows a widening gap between murder and clearances where National rates seem consistent and not widening.

But until 2020, PPB has received an increase to the budget every year but each year clearances were well below national averages and widening. Now with murder rates going up, why do we think funding is the answer?

Graph showing year over year (2012 to 2021) of PPB budget.
Graph by Kat McKelvey
Graph showing PPG budget from 2015 to 2021 and growth YOY. 190 million in 2015, 201 million in 2016, 213 million in 2017, 226 million in 2018, 238 million in 2019, 226 million in 2020

The police want more money but when we have given them that funding, it has not resulted in a safer city. Portland needs to ask why we continue to fund a police force who does not provide a return on our investment.

What are we paying for?

How can we spend in better ways?

Why do we keep throwing our money away?



jake dockter

Fighting for liberation of all people, usually against people like me.