Push to hire retired Portland cops falls short: Only 2 express interest

One retired officer called the bureau's letter "tone-deaf"


By Maxine Bernstein
oregonlive.com

PORTLAND, Ore. — Only two recent retired officers among 81 contacted by Police Chief Chuck Lovell have expressed interest in helping fill Portland police vacancies under the city-approved retire-rehire program.

The chief urged them to consider returning in a letter last month, acknowledging that those who had retired since August 2020 left “at a time of great despair for the Bureau and the City of Portland.”

The Police Bureau is now rebuilding with support from elected officials and residents, Lovell wrote, and urged the retirees to help this “once vibrant city come back to life.”

Officers have been leaving faster than the bureau can hire to fill their spots, so the retire-rehire program was considered the fastest way to fill vacancies.

The City Council in November approved about $448,000 to hire back 25 retired officers as part of the fall budget adjustment.

“We want to continue to make a difference and build a legacy following what was the most historic and darkest time in the Portland Police Bureau. We believe we can do this, but need a team of dedicated professionals to help us bring up the next generation of officers,” Lovell wrote. “We want you to be a part of this effort and hope you will consider the retire/rehire program.”

The chief’s office asked the retirees to alert the bureau of their interest by mid-January and several command staff members made personal calls, but only two had shown interest by the deadline.

And one retired officer sent a blistering response to Lovell, the deputy chief and assistant chiefs, saying she was insulted by the bureau’s letter and characterized it as “tone-deaf.”

Stephanie D. Hudson, who worked as an officer from October 1994 until last May, wrote that the reference to “considerable support from elected officials” was “laughable.” She also said she was offended by the clause in the letter that referenced the city’s ban on bringing back officers found to have violated policy by “cooperating with federal agents to attack Portland residents.”

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“Your letter indicates that nothing has changed. It simply highlights why those who could leave, did leave. I suspect it will take a decade or more to repair the damage that has been done,” Hudson wrote.

Hudson started working for Hillsboro police the day after she retired in Portland, according to state records.

The Police Bureau now has 96 vacancies in a budgeted force of 882 sworn members of all ranks, the bureau’s lowest authorized strength in 28 years, according to police figures.

Lovell is considering expanding the eligibility to hire back ranks beyond officers, such as sergeants and detectives, to fill the positions but hasn’t made that decision yet, according to Sgt. Kevin Allen, a bureau spokesperson.

The bureau also anticipates another large wave of retirements this July and will be working to encourage those veteran officers while they’re still working for the bureau to consider coming back under the program as well, Allen said. About 60 Portland officers will be eligible to retire by July 31.

The retirees would return at their top pay and collect their city pensions at the same time, but they would lose seniority, meaning they would typically work the night or afternoon shifts. They can return to the bureau for two years.

Lovell said he expects the bureau will have a greater response with officers who may be eligible to retire later this year. Some who retired from the Police Bureau since August 2020 already have found jobs at other police agencies, where they can work beyond another two more years, the chief said.

Sam Adams, who serves as Mayor Ted Wheeler’s director of strategic innovations, said the difficulty in attracting retirees reflects a “tough time for big-city police departments to keep and hire staff.”

“As the Mayor has said, his goal is to refocus, reform and restaff (the) police bureau. The PPB staff shortage is real and increasingly dangerous for our community,” Adams said. “But the community safety need is too important and we are going to keep at it. We will do all we can to rehire those who have recently retired and are soon-to-retire.”

When the council approved money for the retire-rehire program, it also approved disqualifying language sought Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who has been the most vocal advocate for police reform on the council.

Lovell included those word-for-word in his letter to retirees. Those who are barred from the program include: any officers who retire in lieu of being investigated or facing investigation or discipline; officers who trained others in methods known to be “unconstitutional crowd control practices,” officers who violated city policy “by cooperating with federal agents to attack Portland residents” and officers who have complaints that were sustained in their personnel file within the last 10 years for use of force, unconstitutional policing or violations of the city’s harassment and discrimination policy.

“We’re not looking to bring back people who are not top notch folks,” Lovell said.

The reference to “cooperating with federal agents to attack Portland residents” drew the most criticism from retirees, many who left the bureau after working nightly protests during the mass social justice demonstrations in the city after the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Had the Police Bureau received substantial interest in the program, Lovell intended to give priority to officers who live in Portland, his letter said.

Assistant Chief Mike Leasure, who oversees the bureau’s personnel division, said other retirees still can express interest past the mid-January deadline that had been set in the chief’s letter. He said he’s hopeful “we’ll get some more responses trickling in.”

“Obviously we want to have as many people working here as possible, and I think our retirees offer a lot of experience and professionalism,” said Sgt. Aaron Schmautz, president of the Portland Police Association.

Part of what also may have hurt the recent push to rehire retirees was its focus on officers who had already left and may have gotten other jobs or moved since, Schmautz said.

“We have seen a remarkable number of highly qualified, excellent Portland police officers, sergeants, detectives, and criminalists retire or resign for other opportunities in the last two years,” Schmautz said by email. “Any effort to inspire them to return should be centered in acknowledging the deficit their absence created, and the work being done to build an environment of respect and support for public safety in our community”.

If the money set aside for the program isn’t used this fiscal year, the mayor will ask to carry it over to the next fiscal year, Adams said.

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