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Portland’s quest to rehire police falls through

Faced with surging violent crime, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is trying to rehire former officers. However, the vast majority of departed cops have reportedly shown no interest in coming back so far.

Only two of the 81 recently retired officers who were invited last month to rejoin the force have expressed interest in being rehired, the Oregonian newspaper reported earlier this week. Some not only declined to return but were reportedly offended by the offer.

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At Wheeler’s direction, police chief Charles Lovell last month sent a letter to former officers — including many who took early retirement amid budget cuts and disputes over tactics used in dealing with nightly riots — inviting them to “be a part of rebuilding Portland.” He acknowledged that the officers left “at a time of great despair” and said the community is now demanding beefed-up policing.

Nearly 98% of the letter’s recipients were unmoved. Former officer Stephanie Hudson, who retired last May, called the offer “laughable” and said some of the exclusions for rehire eligibility were offensive. For instance, the letter said that any police who cooperated with federal law enforcement agencies to “attack Portland residents” when a US District Courthouse was under siege by rioters are disqualified.

“Your letter indicates that nothing has changed,” Hudson replied. “It simply highlights why those who could leave did leave. I suspect that it will take a decade or more to repair the damage that has been done.”

Wheeler said in October that he hoped to rehire 100 former officers, and the Portland City Council later approved a budget for bringing back 25 retired police. However, nearly 100 of the department’s currently budgeted positions are still vacant, and staffing is at the lowest level in almost three decades.

The city had 90 homicides in 2021, exceeding its previous record by 36%. Portland’s death toll exceeded those of such larger cities as San Francisco and Boston.

Portland witnessed violent riots in 2020, which broke out after the police shooting of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis. Initially peaceful protests quickly spiraled into civil unrest, including looting, arson, vandalism and violence. When the riots were plaguing the city for more than three months, Wheeler moved to ban officers from using tear gas – a commonly used crowd-control tactic –  to quell the unrest.

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