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The City Council is expected to approve additional funds to hire more police on Wednesday, Nov. 17.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Portland police on patrrol.Although the City Council appears willing to hire more police officers, the ability of the Portland Police Bureau to increase its ranks has slowed dramatically because of the COVID-19 pandemic and previous budget cuts.

The majority of the council signaled its willingness to spend $7 million in surplus funds on the bureau during the annual Fall Budget Monitoring process hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 10. The final vote on the proposal by Mayor Ted Wheeler, which includes rehiring 25 retired officers this year, is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 17.

This is happening as the bureau faces a record low staffing shortage and Portland faces a record-high homicide rate. But Sgt. Trevor Tyler, who leads the Personnel Division, tells KOIN 6 News that although the bureau has received around 1,000 applications since the beginning of the year, it is currently only able to process under a dozen each month.

"We need a lot more officers, but the process to get them to a position where they can actually do what the job is lengthy and there's nothing that I can do to speed that up," Tyler said.

Tyler, a second-generation Portland officer, explained it can currently take eight months to one year before a candidate completes the application process. Before, candidates were given a conditional offer and sworn in anywhere from three to six months after filling out an application.

Background investigators are integral to the application process, Tyler said. Yet, the bureau currently only has about half the number of background investigators it had in 2020.

"We lost several of them in 2020 when no one really knew what the forecast was going to be like for hiring more officers — several of those investigators were let go," Tyler said. "We brought several of them bac (and) we now have eight. Each one of my backgrounders at any given time is doing between 15 to 25 investigations, and that's a big caseload to handle. And they are constantly at varying stages of the investigation process with each one of them."

Newly hired officers are sent to the basic training academy in Salem, run by the Oregon Department of Public Safety and Training, but the pandemic has delayed recruitment even further. Since COVID, the state agency's protocols have shrunk class capacity to 40 officers.

"Every agency in the state of Oregon, Coos Bay, Beaverton, Hillsboro, any agency that wants to have a certified police officer is going to send them down to Salem for 16 weeks — and all of our agencies are trying to vie for those 40 spots that are open," Tyler said.

"There's no space for them in the academy because of how COVID shut things down. They've had to send people back to their agencies and then they've opened it back up and they brought people back."

This pushed the timeline for open slots in the academy back even further.

"So if I hire someone today, they're not going to go to the academy until April. If I hire someone at the end of December, they're not going to be able to go to the academy until May. I need to be able to forecast how many officers I'm going to hire, because right now, as it stands, I'm warehousing officers."

Even after receiving a state certification, Portland police recruits aren't considered viable officers until they've spent a few months training with a field officer and then attended the bureau's 10-week advanced academy.

Tyler said the bureau is losing out on good candidates because the process is taking so long and says some candidates have been so eager to serve the public that they've applied with other agencies.

Tyler also said some retirees have expressed interest in returning to the force, but they're apprehensive.

"People that are drawn to law enforcement want to believe that they're the good guy and I think they want to believe that the community that they serve in also believes that they're a good person, and that's what we need to get back to is community trust, right?" Tyler said. "If there's a relationship between the community and there's a relationship between the officers, that's where we can solve problems. But if that relationship is not there, it's going to be an uphill battle, trying to get people to come and be officers here."

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.


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