As summer comes to an end the Eugene Chamber is looking toward the fall and making plans for how we can support businesses through what looks to be another difficult season. One area we are consistently focused on is advocating for businesses and right now we are preparing for the city council to return from break and begin taking up important issues relevant to the business community.
One of the first issues on their docket is community safety and the future of the Community Safety Initiative. The Community Safety Initiative was passed by the Eugene city council in 2019 to increase funding and align resources that would reduce crime, improve neighborhood quality of life, and stabilize our public safety system. It is funded by employers and employees in the form of a payroll tax that went into effect in January of 2021.
Identifying the Needs of Our Community
In 2019, city councilors were presented with a review of our community justice system that indicated a significant gap existed between the level of public safety services needed for a community our size and the current services being provided. It was found that while Eugene’s population had grown, along with the demand on our police and fire departments, the number of officers serving our community had decreased. As a result, we learned that officer response time had increased by almost 20 minutes, and police were unable to respond to one out of three calls for service. Our Fire and Emergency Medical Service faced similar problems.
The growing demand continued to outpace capacity causing critical gaps in community safety and services. Staff estimated that funding of $22.8 million annually was needed to fill the gaps and maintain safety and quality of life in our community.
The Chamber’s Perspective
When this initiative was introduced to the community, our chamber was less than enthusiastic about a new tax on business, but our leaders understood the dire state our community safety system was in and how an underperforming safety system negatively impacted the economic prosperity of our region.
When originally passed, the Community Safety Initiative outlined how funding would be split between critical functions of the justice system: 65% for police services; 10% for fire and emergency medical services; 15% for municipal court and prosecution services; and 10% for prevention and homelessness services.
Our business community supported the payroll tax with the promise the City would expand needed police services, including 40 patrol officers, 5 detectives, 4 sergeants, 10 community service officers, 9.5 staff for 911, animal welfare, and traffic safety officers, and evidence control and forensic analysts.
Where We Are Now
Two years later, our community and country have experienced multiple crises that have put increased strain on our community safety system while also shining a light on how our institutions are failing to safely serve diverse members of our community.
Today, our elected officials are facing pressure to defund our police department and reallocate funds to other places in our community, while at the same time they are hearing story after story of how our police officers didn’t show up for hours when they were needed if they were able to respond at all.
On September 13th Council will discuss if they will shift how funding for the Community Safety Initiative will be spent. Our chamber strongly believes that policy recommendations from BIPOC community members to improve the nature of policing in our community should be prioritized by our council. However, shifting funding away from our police will not bring our community safety services up to the level that our community is expecting and deserves.
This initiative was introduced because of a significant lack of resources—our community was already coming from behind. The world looks a lot different today than it did two years ago, but we would argue the safety of our community is worse off, not better than it was when this ordinance was passed. Eugene City Councilors made a commitment to our community. It is imperative that they keep their promises and do their job to keep our community safe.