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By Ian K. Kullgren April 21, 2011

Chief Reese says if Portland were like Seattle, the bureau would have 300 more officers

Well, if you’re done comparing our farmers markets, bikeways and standards of living, Portland Police Chief Mike Reese has identified another battle in the ongoing Portland-Seattle War: The police-to-resident ratio.

Yep. In a recent appearance at the City Club of Portland, Reese noted that if Portland "had the same staffing ratio as Seattle, we'd have 300 more officers in our department."

Could we really be falling that far behind? Could our bike paths really be so superior or produce so much fresher but our police force so much smaller?

Naturally, we had to know.

We called up the Seattle Police Department and asked just how many officers our sister city to the north has. As of February 1, 2011, they had 1,338 sworn officers. That number includes everybody from patrol officers to detectives to assistant police chiefs.

According to the 2010 census, the city of Seattle is home to some 608,660 residents. Divide the number of residents by the number of officers and you get about one officer for every 455 residents.

To see how many officers Portland would need to have the same ratio you just need to take our population -- 583,776, according to the 2010 census -- and divide it by 455. Do that, and you get 1,283.

So, how many officers does Portland actually have? Well, according to bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson, we have 981 sworn officers in all -- about 300 fewer than we’d need to hit Seattle’s ratio.

Reese is right. We have about 25 percent fewer officers than we would need to match Seattle’s ratio. That percent difference holds up when you consider just the number of patrol officers, too. (Seattle has some 550 patrol officers -- one for every 1,106 residents -- to Portland’s 392 -- one for every 1,490 residents.)

But before we pronounce this a case closed, let’s consider one other variable: The Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro-area population is some 3,400,000* strong while the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro metro-area population is roughly a third smaller at 2,200,000.

The reason that has anything to do with Seattle police staffing is this: Seattle’s day-time population -- the number of folks coming in for work and entertainment -- gives the city’s population even more of an edge over Portland’s.

Day-time population estimates for the 2010 Census haven’t been published just yet, but if we take a look back at the estimates from the 2000 Census they show Seattle’s population growing by more than 28 percent during the day, while Portland grew by 23 percent during the day.

If we keep those ratios, Seattle’s population reaches 781,519 and Portland’s jumps to 718,097. Rerun the numbers and Seattle has one sworn officer for every 584 "day-time" residents. In order to match that ratio, Portland would need 1,229 officers. We’re 248 officers short this time around.

We just can’t win. At least, as Reese noted during the same speech, our crime rate is down to levels not seen since 1967.

Still, why are we lagging behind? Well, there are a number of variables here, but, perhaps most importantly, Seattle’s property-related revenue stream puts our own to shame.

All told, Portland has an assessed property value of nearly $45 billion. (The actual market value for Portland is about double the assessed value according to the Tax Supervising and Conservation Commission, but Measure 5 and related laws keep the taxable value depressed.)  Meanwhile, Seattle has an assessed property value of $123 billion -- nearly three times as much as we have to work with.

Portland draws about 40 percent of its budget from property taxes.

Whatever the case, it seems Reese is on to something here. If you take the population of each city, we’re short about 300 officers if we want to match Seattle’s resident-to-officer ratio. Even if you control for the number of people in the surrounding metro area, we seem to be lagging pretty considerably.

We rate this claim True.

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*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the population of the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro-area population. The 2010 Census estimates the population to be more than 3,400,000.

Our Sources

The Oregonian, "Portland Police Chief Mike Reese talks about his goals …," April 15, 2011

U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census, April 18, 2011

Interview with Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson, April 18, 2011

Interview with Seattle Police Department spokesman Det. Mark Jamieson, April 18, 2011

King County Department of Assessments, 2010 Assessed Valuations and Taxes, April 18, 2011

Multnomah County Assessment and Taxation, Multnomah County Summary of Assessments and Tax 2009-2010, April 19, 2011

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Chief Reese says if Portland were like Seattle, the bureau would have 300 more officers

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