Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell plans early next year to reassign traffic and canine officers and some narcotics investigators to the Patrol Division to fill shifts, reduce overtime and improve response times as the bureau faces an approximately $2 million deficit this fiscal year.
Lovell wrote to officers in a memo this week, “Even without the budget constraints, we know patrol officers are overwhelmed, our call times have increased and we have heard loud and clear from the public that responding to calls for service in a timely manner is the priority.”
The Police Bureau has about 290 officers assigned to patrol now. It has relied on overtime to backfill vacancies on patrol shifts about 40% of the time, according to the chief. The transfer of more officers from the speciality units to patrol will help curb that reliance on overtime, he wrote.
“This is not sustainable and we are told by analysts that we need around 400 officers to completely stop backfilling,” he wrote.
Under a phased staff reorganization, changes would take place over the next two months, Lovell said.
On Jan. 1, seven officers from the former Transit Division, which was eliminated this year in budget cuts, will be moved to patrol duties.
On Feb. 4, 49 Rapid Response Team officers, 20 traffic officers , nine canine officers, two public information officers, three community engagement officers and one Behavioral Health Unit officer will be reassigned to patrol, answering calls for service.
The moves won’t affect one supervisor and four traffic fatal crash investigators, who will remain assigned to the bureau’s Major Crash Team, but they leave no other officers dedicated solely to traffic patrols, said Sgt. Kevin Allen, a bureau spokesman. Six officers will remain in the Narcotics Enforcement Unit for now, but could be folded into other investigative units in the future, Allen said.
The canine officers will keep their dogs in their cars with them when responding to calls on patrol and will still go if a police dog is needed for other responses if they’re not already tied up on patrol, Allen said.
“These are all difficult decisions and every person working in a non-patrol assignment is doing valuable and important work,” Lovell wrote. “However, with around 290 officers currently assigned to patrol, it is critical that we address this staffing shortage.”
The chief cited budget constraints as the ” driving force” for his reassignments.
“We must make up a budget deficit of more than $1.5 million for this year and respond to the Mayor’s budget guidance of possibly taking a 5 percent cut next fiscal year,” he wrote. “Our goal is to not lay people off and the only way we have to address it is by minimizing overtime.”
The bureau currently has 865 sworn members with 52 vacancies. Of the 865, 290 are now assigned to patrol, covering three precincts and spread across three 10-hour shifts, seven days a week.
So far this year, there have been 55 retirements plus 36 separations, including trainees who didn’t complete their probationary period and other officers leaving to go to other police agencies.
With the reassignments and an anticipated 22 retirements or resignations in January, the bureau will have 360 officers on patrol in February. Another five new recruits are expected to complete their training early next year, increasing the total patrol to 365 officers.
It currently takes an average of 10 minutes for police to respond to high-priority emergencies, an average of 25 minutes to respond to medium-priority calls and an average of 63 minutes to respond to lower priority non-emergency calls, according to the most recent data on the bureau’s website.
The 10-minute average response time to emergencies is far above the citywide goal of responding to high priority calls — such as an assault or robbery in progress — in five minutes or less. “Average response time” measures from when an officer is dispatched to arrival.
In mid-November, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he asked Lovell and the director of 911 emergency communications to provide him with data on police response times to emergency calls before the end of the year as he fields complaints from people about either slow or no responses by police.
“What we need is a clear and transparent baseline” to provide a basic understanding of “where we are,” Wheeler said then.
The City Council in June added $15 million to the $11.8 million in cuts already proposed by the mayor for an approved police budget of $229.5 million.
That meant a total reduction of $27 million from the bureau’s spending request for the current fiscal year and the elimination of 84 officer positions, including the elimination of the Gun Violence Reduction Team, the Transit Division and the school resource officer program.
Police also have paid more than $6 million for overtime from May 29 through September to cover their response to social justice protests that occurred nightly over summer after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck despite his pleas that he couldn’t breathe.
— Maxine Bernstein
Email at firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-221-8212
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