Chief Lovell shifts traffic, drug officers to reduce overtime
Update: This article has been modified and expanded to reflect a Dec. 11 Portland Police Bureau press release.
With the Portland Police Bureau expecting 22 retirements or resignations next month, Chief Chuck Lovell is diverting traffic and drug officers to reduce overtime costs and prevent 911 response times from getting worse.
The changes, which some bureau observers describe as unprecedented, come at a time when the bureau has been battling a surge in excessive speeding, including speed racing.
The changes are intended to combat overtime spending, which the chief has blamed on the demands of responding to protests that at times have devolved into riots, arson, vandalism and violence.
According to a Dec. 11 press release from the bureau, "Due to significant overtime costs from months of civil unrest, the Bureau currently faces a $2 million deficit this fiscal year and must decrease its use of overtime to meet its budget. In order to have enough officers to respond to 911 emergency calls, the Bureau is having to hire a significant number officers on overtime."
Police response to high-priority or emergency 911 calls have taken about 13 minutes on average since July 1, according to bureau's website. That's five minutes more than the average high-priority call in the previous year.
The resignations and retirements expected next months mean the officer rank is being reduced by 28, including six who are being promoted to detective. Currently the bureau has 603 officer-rank employees.
The changes envisioned, along with others approved earlier in the year, will bring the number of officers assigned to patrol up from the current 290 to 360 by February, according to the bureau.
To fill the gap, Lovell intends to move into patrol seven officers from the narcotics and organized crime unit, which focuses on mid-level drug dealers. He also will shift 20 traffic officers, the bulk of that unit, back to the precincts for patrol.
Nine K-9 officers will be moved to precincts where they will help respond to calls while continuing to handle their dogs.
Five officers will be moved from public information and community engagement, and one from the behavioral health unit that focuses on people in crisis.
"To meet our fiscal goals, we are shifting our resources to focus on responding to calls for service and conducting investigations," said Lovell in a prepared statement. "We have heard loud and clear from the public that these are priorities and we are taking that feedback into account."
The newly announced changes take effect Feb. 4.
On Jan. 1, already-approved changes go in into effect. About 49 officers who'd been deployed to crowd control full-time with the bureau's rapid response team will be moved back to patrol, though they will still be available for protest duty.
Moreover, seven officers currently assigned to the transit division and TriMet will be moved back to patrol, fulfilling an announcement made by Mayor Ted Wheeler in June.
This is not the first time the bureau has considered cutting traffic. In October, responding to budget cuts proposed by Commissioners Jo Ann Hardesty and Chloe Eudaly, Lovell warned that the bureau might need to eliminate the traffic division, and that 911 response time delays could worsen.
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