Portland DA Hires More Prosecutors As Murders Reach Record Pace

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

The chief prosecutor in Multnomah County, Oregon says his office will be bringing four more prosecutors and two investigators on board to help handle the onslaught of cases brought on by the city of Portland’s skyrocketing homicide rate. As of September 23rd there have been 65 homicides in the city, and Portland appears poised to shatter the city’s all-time high of 70 murders set back in 1987.

Multnomah County D.A. Mike Schmidt, who was elected as a far-left progressive who was going to bring “innovative approaches to reduce incarceration and address racial and economic disparities in the criminal justice system”, according to his campaign website, is now sounding more like a tough-on-time prosecutor than a guy who wants to re-imagine policing.

“For many of the prosecutors in my office who have been doing this for 20, 30 years, this is a once in a career surge in violent crime,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt is still working with County Chair Deborah Kafoury on getting the funds approved, though he said his office is already recruiting for the six new positions.

He and Kafoury were among county leaders who spoke publicly to outline initiatives the county is taking to respond and try to curb the violence.

The others were Sheriff Mike Reese, Community Justice Director Erika Preuitt, Health Director Ebony Clarke and Joe McFerrin, Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center + Rosemary Anderson High School CEO and president.

Portland’s homicide rate exploded last year shortly after Mayor Ted Wheeler disbanded the police department’s Gun Violence Reduction Team amidst criticism that the unit disproportionately targeted young black men. Shootings in the city doubled after the team was disbanded, and earlier this year Wheeler reversed course and announced the formation of a new project- the Focused Intervention Team. The police department has had trouble recruiting officers to the team, however, and it’s not hard to understand why, given that previous units devoted to dealing with the most prolific and high-risk offenders have been used as scapegoats by activists and politicians.

The reduction in the number of officers on the street is a real concern. Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese says his department has almost a dozen vacant deputy positions, and is about 45 staffers short of a full deployment of corrections officers at the county jail. Portland’s mayor, meanwhile, is hoping to bring back some recently retired officers to deal with the shortage of uniformed officers in the Portland Police Bureau.

The program, known as retire/rehire, allows the bureau to hire recently retired officers who return to the force without their previous seniority and aren’t eligible for specialty units but are ready to take calls for service on day one. It is a short term way to rapidly increase staffing while the bureau works to train newly hired officers, according to the mayor. Wheeler said the officers will improve response times and help prevent burnout.

The bureau has 794 sworn officers – 59 of those in training – out of an allotted 916.

“We currently have about 80 officers who will be eligible in July to retire,” Police Chief Chuck Lovell said. “Instead of seeing them leave and our numbers decrease, it will allow us a vehicle to bring them back to keep them from leaving, and prevent what would essentially be a retirement cliff in July.”

The retire/rehire program was stopped last August because it is expensive. The rehired officers come back at the top pay level they reached before retiring. The rehired officers also draw their city retirement benefits while still paying into a state retirement fund.

Wheeler called for millions of dollars in budget cuts to the Police Bureau last year, but now he’s complaining that the department is “under-resourced.” Who’s fault is that, exactly?

Portland’s current crime wave can be traced back to the start of the riots inspired by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May and the ham-handed response on the part of officials like Wheeler and Schmidt, who’ve been far more hostile to law enforcement and law-abiding gun owners than the city’s violent criminals. Now that the defund the police movement’s popularity is fading, even on the left, these officials are trying to welcome back officers with open arms. The hostility towards gun owners and the Second Amendment, on the other hand, remains firmly in place, and we can expect that the record-high homicide rate is going to lead to more calls to restrict the rights of Oregonians when legislators return to the state capitol in Salem in just a few months.