‘Critical’ shortage of patrol officers force Portland police to pull from other divisions

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Portland’s police chief is assigning officers from specialty units to fill patrol vacancies and restricting travel and outside training to control mounting overtime costs.

He’s also requiring managers to approve any discretionary overtime.

“The bureau is currently short of staffing and continues to suffer from the reduction of 55 positions that were cut two years ago,” Chief Larry O’Dea wrote in a memo to supervisors this fall.

Retirements and resignations have further cut the number of sworn police officers faster than the bureau can recruit, hire and train new ones to fill the jobs. The bureau now has 41 officer vacancies, with close to 90 officers eligible to retire by April in a force of 950 authorized sworn officers. Of those, there are about 355 patrol officers.

The bureau spent $3.1 million in overtime through October of this fiscal year, about half of its $6.9 million in budgeted overtime spending, according to bureau figures. That’s about $723,000 more than the bureau spent at the same point last year — about a 37 percent increase.

“The rate of spending places the bureau in danger of exceeding its budget, and requires that expense control strategies be put into place effective immediately,” the chief wrote.

About 120 officers from the Family Services, Drugs and Vice, Youth Services, Training, Traffic, Gang Enforcement, Criminal Intelligence and Personnel divisions, as well as precincts’ Neighborhood Response and Street Crimes units, are rotating to fill vacancies on patrol shifts.

Portland Police Bureau overtime Overtime hours Overtime paid Overtime budgeted
Fiscal year 2010-11 122,367 $6,357,488 $7,110,903
Fiscal year 2011-12 163,441 $8,910,428 $7,649,040
Fiscal year 2012-13 121,522 $6,868,713 $7,306,762
Fiscal year 2013-14 96,713 $5,437,990 $6,928,592
Fiscal year 2014-15 132,270 $7,654,791 $6,857,000
Fiscal year 2015-16 (July 1st-present) 52,075 $3,129,088 $6,900,000

» Download an Excel table with all the Portland Police Bureau’s overtime costs for the past five years.

Because some of the officers haven’t worked patrol for months or even years — and aren’t familiar with mobile data computers in patrol cars or the relatively new police data reporting system — they’re pairing up in patrol cars with other officers.

Several patrol officers privately have called the officers with little experience on the street: “ride-alongs with badges.” While precinct commanders typically assign one patrol car with one officer to cover a neighborhood district, the two-officer cars often are dispatched to cover two districts.

“We recognize people have varying degrees of experience. But they all go through annual review training and have to qualify three times a year with a firearm. While not being on the street certainly diminishes some of their skill sets, the core abilities should remain,” Assistant Chief Bob Day said. “We’re reducing overtime which is our primary reason. There’s always going to be bumps in the road.”

While detectives aren’t being reassigned to patrol, the Detective Division still faces challenges because it can’t promote patrol officers to fill three detective vacancies until staffing stabilizes, Detective Division Cmdr. George Burke said.

“We’re at a critical stage here when it comes to staffing,” Day said. “We’re just trying to find a way to live within our means.”

The police chief also has told officers that starting in February he intends to expand patrol operations from three to five shifts, moving more officers to afternoon and evening hours that draw more calls for service and reducing staffing during quieter hours.

“If you are short a player on a baseball team, you don’t put a catcher in to play shortstop.” -PPA president Daryl Turner

The two new shifts will run from noon to 10 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. That’s in addition to the three shifts that run 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., 4p.m. to 2 a.m. and 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.

O’Dea said the move “will allow us to have more bodies when we need them, and less when we don’t.”

“This is about using our existing resources more efficiently and effectively to better serve the call load,” O’Dea said.

The Portland Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, calls both major changes harebrained ideas that fail to address the underlying problem: an understaffed police force.

Officer Daryl Turner, police union president, drew on a baseball analogy to criticize the bureau’s use of officers from specialty units to fill patrol shifts.

“If you are short a player on a baseball team, you don’t put a catcher in to play shortstop,” he said.

The officers assigned to Drugs and Vice or Family Services may not be familiar with the neighborhood districts they’re being assigned to help cover, he said. They’re also being pulled away from their assigned investigations.

“It doesn’t help us to be proactive with the community or be proactive against crime,” he said. “The people who we serve are the ones who will suffer.”

Instead, officers in the precincts’ Neighborhood Response and Street Crimes units should be permanently assigned to shag patrol calls, instead of just being rotated in to assist patrol, Turner said.

The union also has filed a grievance contesting the move to five patrol shifts, arguing that the chief needed to negotiate before changing officers’ working conditions. Officers are concerned that reducing staffing from 7 a.m. to noon to eight officers to cover all of Central Precinct’s districts, for example, won’t be sufficient if something major was to occur. Now, the staffing during those hours runs between 15 and 19 officers.

Meanwhile, the bureau and the union are negotiating a plan to allow retired Portland officers to be hired back to help deal with the staffing problem. The bureau also is trying to recruit experienced officers from other agencies, known as lateral hires.

The chief also has ordered all division managers to review their budgets and find savings and evaluate if certain officers now paid to be on call when off duty truly need to be.

— Maxine Bernstein

mbernstein@oregonian.com
503-221-8212
@maxoregonian

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2015/12/critcal_shortage_of_patrol_off.html