Portland PD to move traffic, K-9 units to patrol next year to fill shifts, cut OT

"Even without the budget constraints, we know patrol officers are overwhelmed," wrote Chief Chuck Lovell

By Maxine Bernstein

PORTLAND — Portland’s police chief 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.

Chief Chuck 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.”

Currently, the bureau has about 290 officers assigned to patrol. 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 overtime reliance, he wrote.

“This is not sustainable and we are told by analysts that we need around 400 officers to completely stop backfilling,” the chief wrote.

Under a phased staff reorganization, the chief informed officers that changes would take place over the next two months.

On Jan. 1, seven officers from the former transit division, which was eliminated this fiscal 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.

“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 called the " driving force” for his reassignments the bureau’s budget constraints.

“We must make up a budget deficit of more than $1.5 million deficit 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.”

Currently, the bureau 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.

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 the police chief and 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 paid more than $6 million for overtime from May 29 through September to cover its response to social justice protests that had occurred nearly nightly for just over five months.

(c)2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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