Mayor asks for more money this fall to rehire retired police officers, expand Portland Street response, prepare for body cameras

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As shootings continue to skyrocket in Portland and homicides peak in more than two decades, Mayor Ted Wheeler on Friday called for more money to allow police to rehire officers who have recently retired to address the office staff shortage.

Wheeler also called for a city-wide expansion of Portland Street Response to reduce the number of calls police must handle. Along with that effort, he said he expected to ask for a significant increase in funding to allow non-emergency calls to be diverted from the 911 emergency dispatch system to another line, the city’s 311 program. .

Additionally, Wheeler said he intends to look for money to set aside to equip officers with body cameras.

Wheeler, who is a police commissioner, and Police Chief Chuck Lovell have estimated that 80 officers would be eligible for retirement and could return to work this year.

The return of retirees ensures that officers can be patrolled the streets or help immediately target gun violence “as well as prevent burnout among our current officers,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler and Lovell’s remarks come just a month before city council is considering budget adjustment proposals this fall. The mayor has yet to provide the exact amount he will seek to increase the police bureau’s budget. He said he expected to know how much money will be available for budget adjustments by the end of this month.

“Last March, when I worked with the Interfaith Peace and Action (Collaborative) and other community leaders to come up with a gun violence reduction plan, I said we had to act then so that we had time to prepare for what seemed like a disaster the summer to come. We lived that summer, ”Wheeler said. “The city tends to have its deadliest year in decades. And while urban gun violence affects cities across the United States, we are not other cities. This is our home and we have to do better here.

The city has recorded 64 homicides so far this year, including three fatal shootings by police. Of these, 46 were the result of shootings.

On Thursday, 886 shootings took place across the city this year, with 283 people killed or wounded by bullets. Police recorded 1,229 shootings in the past 12 months, a significant increase from the 656 shootings reported in the previous 12 months.

The office is losing officers much faster than it can hire new hires, and this year it expects another wave of retirements.

Since the start of the year, the chief and mayor have requested support for a rehiring program to address the office’s staff shortage, but council did not approve it in this year’s budget.

The Police Bureau now has 122 sworn officer positions. There are currently 794 sworn-in officers, of which 59 are in training, with an authorized strength of 916.

Hiring new officers has been difficult, with fewer state police base academies offered during the pandemic. The office also lost its three-member recruiting team in the past fiscal year – the senior recruiter resigned and two officers were put back on patrol to fill shifts. Police also reduced the number of investigators tasked with checking candidates’ personal backgrounds to seven from 18, according to police.

So far this year, 40 officers have retired. Last year, 56 retired. In addition, 71 other agents left this year, either by resignation or by failure of their probationary period, according to the office.

During exit interviews, a few retirees said they would have stayed if the office still had a retirement-re-hire program to come back for two to six years. The office eliminated the program last year because it is more expensive to bring back veteran agents who earn more money.

City commissioner Mingus Mapps, who rejected the mayor’s proposal additional funding for the police office earlier this year, is now strongly calling for more police resources and said this week it wants a 20% reduction in gun violence over the next 15 months.

“To pretend you don’t exist devalues ​​the lives of black people,” Mapps said in a prepared statement. “33.6% of homicide victims were black males in the past fiscal year, compared to about 3% of the population. At this point, it is fallacious to deny that the Portland Police Office and law enforcement have a critical role to play. “

Wheeler was reluctant to set such a specific shooting reduction target, but said he was committed to reducing shooting in the city through increased enforcement and community outreach and support. “We won’t see the results without the investments and without the strategies at the street level,” he said.

Last year, city council eliminated the police bureau’s gun violence reduction unit, which aimed to proactively target gun violence but criticized for its disproportionate arrests of people of color. The city dissolved the unit without providing an immediate alternative.

In the spring, the mayor approved the creation of a similar team of uniformed officers to identify and prosecute the most frequent suspected shooters – with a new layer of community surveillance in the form of a citizens’ group to track its performance. .

But the police office does not expect the team of 12 officers led by two sergeants to be operational until the end of November.

Few officers had volunteered for the team earlier this year. Some officers said they were unsure of the watch group’s expectations and feared they would not gain support from the city, Deputy Chief Jamie Resch said.

Instead, the police office decided to identify the team’s supervisors first, appointing Acting Lt. Ken Duilio to oversee the new team, under the command of Captain James Crooker and Cmdr. Art Nakamura.

Five officers have now applied for the team’s two sergeant positions. Police and two members of the community watch group will interview the five next Tuesday, and selections are expected by the end of next week. The community watch group and police then plan to release a new job description for officers on the new team in late September.

Lovell said he chose not to assign or appoint officers to the new team because he wanted to enable the community group’s contribution in light of past experiences with the now defunct gangs and anti-gang teams. reduction of gun violence.

“We take public safety seriously in the city. He is painful to see community members injured and gunshot wounds on our streets, and we are doing everything we can to get the targeted response team up and running, ”said Lovell. “We are working with the resources we have. We’re looking for ways to add more, and we really want people to feel safe and able to come out in the community, and not worry about gun violence.

The expansion of Portland Street Response is expected to help reduce the number of low-priority calls that Portland police must answer, accounting for about 40% of the office’s calls, according to police. Street Response sends a paramedic and social worker to people experiencing homelessness or mental health crisis if there are no weapons involved in the call. It was launched in February, limited to the Lents district.

Meanwhile, the city faces complaints of 911 callers who sit on hold for minutes, instead of seconds, before their emergency calls are answered.

In a shooting at a Pearl District restaurant earlier this month, people who called 911 to report the shooting and other emergencies over the next half hour waited an average of more than 7, 5 minutes before a dispatcher responds, well above the national picking standard. up to 911 calls in 15 to 20 seconds.

Bob Cozzie, director of the city’s Emergency Communications Office, said a 20-45% increase, depending on the week, in the volume of 911 calls received is not sustainable. He said he would like to see all non-emergency calls transferred to the 311 program line, but program staff only answer the line on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The 311 system is designed to provide callers with a single point of contact for finding information on municipal and government services.

“We need relief by next summer or we’ll burn people so drastically,” Cozzie said of his staff.

Michelle Kunec-North, the 311 program manager, told city officials earlier this week that about 60,000 of the 500,000 non-urgent calls could be absorbed by line 311 by the end of the fiscal year, ie next June. She said the 311 program would need at least 10 to 15 additional employees to handle all non-emergency calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Regarding body cameras, the city is negotiating a policy with the police union for the use of cameras that would ensure officers cannot see the footage until their initial investigation report or interview with a detective if they use lethal force, the mayor said.

The US Department of Justice has called on the city to take this step to address its failure to meet the terms of a 2014 settlement agreement on the use of force, police training and oversight.

–Maxine Bernstein

Email mbernstein@oregonian.com; 503-221-8212

Follow on Twitter @maxoregonian



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