Your City Hall: Police shortage put on front burner
What's happening? The City Council will confront the ongoing shortage of Portland police officers as it works on next year's budget.
What's the problem? According to a recent report by the City Budget Office, the number of officers patrolling the city remained at about 350 last year, despite the council approving 49 new hires in the current budget.
That's a problem because Portland's population is growing and 911 calls have increased more than 25 percent over the past five years. One result is that response time to high-priority calls has remained the same, at about nine minutes.
And, according to the report, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. The Portland Police Bureau currently has 75 vacancies. Although it has hired 22 officers since last year's budget was approved, 50 officers currently are scheduled to retire by this summer.
Why hasn't the bureau hired more officers? One problem is how long it takes to hire and train new officers. The report says applicants wait an average of 11 months to learn whether they've passed background and other checks and been hired. Then they face two years of training and probabation before they can respond to calls. According to the report, 25 percent of officers hired in the past three years left before finishing their probation period. That number has historically been closer to 15 percent, the report says.
The report points to the growing negative image of the police nationwide, calling the problem, "The deterioration of public perceptions of the challenges of serving as a police officer."
What's the solution? The council already has increased the entry-level salary for officers to $64,000 from $47,000 in 2014. Mayor Ted Wheeler, who is police commissioner, has said he wants to the expand the pool of applicants by reaching out to communities of color, recent immigrants to the United States and more women.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who is in charge of the other public safety bureaus, said she wants to reduce the workload on officers by having nonemergency 911 calls directed to other first responders, including mental health professionals.
What can I do? You can follow and comment on the council's current deliberations over the city budget that will take effect July 1. The website for the City Budget Office lists all upcoming council work sessions, public hearings and other budget-related meetings at www.portlandoregon.gov/cbo. The police bureau work session is scheduled for April 2.