Gresham police force down 10% as city shootings spike
Unexpected departures of Gresham police officers have left the department short-staffed and facing cuts to popular programs even as the city experiences a historic spike in shootings.
The Gresham force has lost nearly 10% of sworn officers in the past years after retirements, departures, and officers stepping away from law enforcement careers all together. With 12 vacancies and few options to hire suitable candidates, the police department will be cutting two programs to reassign officers.
"The city of Gresham is grateful for the service of our police officers and deeply values not only their health and wellbeing, but the safety of our communities as well," a Gresham spokesperson said.
These cuts are solely related to personnel woes, rather than budget constraints, restructuring of services, or attempts to "defund the police."
While conversations are still expected to be had by Gresham City Council in the coming months, as of Jan. 1, 2022, the Traffic Unit, the Neighborhood Enforcement Team (NET) and officers in the Transit Division will all be temporarily reassigned to patrol and investigations. The hope is to alleviate the pressure officers are experiencing due to the shortage on the force.
"This is just the beginning," wrote Thomas Walker, president of the Gresham Police Officers' Association, in a letter to the community. "I want to be explicitly clear; this is not what we as police officers want."
The traffic officers will revert to patrol officers, meaning they will be available for 911 calls. All patrol officers can respond to traffic incidents and issue tickets — the city said the Gresham Police Department will continue to enforce traffic safety laws even with these changes.
The Traffic Enforcement Team specializes in targeted enforcement of speed zones and accident investigations.
The three detectives with NET team, which has long been used as an example of the innovative approach the city of Gresham has taken to working within the community to find solutions outside of arrests, will be reassigned to the investigations unit to assist with violent crimes.
The NET team often dealt with livability concerns and works in concert with Gresham's code compliance team. The focus has been on abandoned vehicles, overgrown vegetation, graffiti, garbage, RV parking permits and more. The NET officers are also a resource for the Gresham Neighborhood Associations, and often visit meetings across the community.
The officers serving with the Transit Division ensure safety on TriMet buses and MAX lines.
These potential cuts come during historic levels of violence.
On Thursday evening, Oct. 21, the 140th shooting took place in Gresham. Every night that gunfire rings out in the city adds to the record for total shootings in a single year. In 2020 there were 103 shootings.
This year there have also been 12 homicides in the city, 9 of which were ruled murders. That is the highest number since 1994. And those cases require more follow up work for officers, who are spread thin with the staffing concerns.
"We acknowledge we are experiencing record numbers of shootings and homicides right now," a city of Gresham spokesperson said. "When coupled with the staffing shortage, we recognize we must make changes to ensure the ongoing safety of our community and officers."
City leaders said they are exploring a number of options, including better hiring strategies, how police respond to non-emergency calls, and whether non-sworn staff could be hired to support officers.
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