The Lake Oswego Police Department has received a green light to hire four additional police officers to join the patrol division.
Councilors approved the release of $1.6 million in previously budgeted funds in order to make those hires during the Dec. 21 Lake Oswego City Council meeting.
Last April, during a budget committee meeting, members and city staff spent time discussing the addition of new officers to the force.
One of the council's primary goals for 2021 was to complete a community engagement process around policing that began last year amid widespread social unrest. Last spring, the city was still in the midst of gathering feedback and creating a set of recommendations to move forward — a process that was recently completed. Committee members expressed during that budget meeting that it was too early to make any significant decisions about staffing at LOPD. However, with the city's budgeting process running on a separate — and faster — timetable, the committee was compelled to address the proposal in some way and ultimately voted unanimously to allocate the $1.6 million in requested funds for the new officers with a caveat that the police chief could not hire anyone before the community police dialogue was completed.
Now that the dialoguing is done and the police are currently working on an action plan, the council approved the funds.
"I believe we had a community conversation wrap-up meeting where we looked at all those recommendations we were given and now it's time for me to come back and ask for that money to be released," said LOPD Chief Dale Jorgensen, adding that workload is one of the main reasons for the need to increase staffing. "We haven't had a significant increase in our staffing in sworn officers in over 30 years, although our population has increased."
Jorgensen said he's seen an increase of incidents officers have attended to over the years. He said when the workload piles on, mistakes happen and people can get hurt.
"Balancing, that becomes a very tricky thing," Jorgensen said.
He also noted that a number of officers are eligible to retire next year.
Without hiring more officers, Jorgensen said, the department would struggle to keep up with rising crime rates. During the April meeting Jorgensen said over the course of the upcoming budget cycle, between 2021 and 2023, as many as nine sworn officers are in line to retire, so hiring was important.
Jorgensen also expressed the immediacy of the need for additional staffing because of the time it takes to have officers on-boarded.
He said it used to be an approximately two-month wait from the time an officer was hired to the time they got into the police academy for training, which lasts 16 weeks. If an officer was hired today, Jorgensen said, they wouldn't get into the police academy for about six months.
Councilor Massene Mboup expressed concern surrounding the police only hiring one behavioral health specialist for mental health-related calls. That specialist joined the force earlier this year and is shared with the West Linn Police Department.
Jorgensen said there wasn't enough work to bring on an additional behavioral health specialist, and that the department has a vision related to utilizing caseworkers down the road but they aren't there yet.
"These definitely are different times," said Lake Oswego Mayor Joe Buck, adding that this past year there's been a concentration of behavior that's unsettling and hasn't necessarily been seen before. "I hope that it is a moment in time and will not continue into the future."
That aside, Buck said, the police had a difficult time keeping up with the requirements and demands of the city.
For more information, visit the city's website.
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