Portland police so far have failed to convince even one retired officer to return to the force to help fill historic staffing gaps as they face the potential loss of dozens more officers eligible to retire in summer.
The shortage should spur the Police Bureau to kick recruitment into high gear immediately, city budget analysts recommended in a new report.
Simply adding money for new jobs isn’t going to help, according to the analysts who evaluated the bureau’s $254 million budget request for fiscal 2022-2023.
That compares to the bureau’s $230 million budget for the current fiscal year that runs through the end of June.
Police are seeking $16.9 million in ongoing funding to boost its authorized 882 sworn officer positions by 67 and add 33 public safety specialists who respond to lower level, non-emergency calls.
But budget analysts recommend that the City Council instead set aside $2.6 million in one-time general fund money to accelerate the hiring of 30 officers to fill existing vacancies.
“Current projections indicate that additional ongoing funding in FY 2022-23 without significantly increasing hiring rates would not successfully increase officer patrol numbers in the near term,” the analysis said.
“Accelerated and increased officer hiring is the single most important way to impact officer patrol levels over the next two years.’’
The analysts also recommended returning to the general fund the $448,000 that the council in November approved to hire back 25 retired officers this year, due to lack of participation.
The rehired retirees were to work until the bureau could hire and train new officers, but none have signed up.
Considering the lack of interest, the analysts advised city councilors not to approve the bureau’s request for another $1.6 million to support the rehire-retire program in the coming fiscal year.
The number of filled sworn police jobs in the bureau — 810 of an authorized strength of 882 — is about 9% below the bureau’s five-year average, the Budget Office report said. (The number of filled positions changes frequently. As of Monday, it was 780 sworn members, with 525 of those at the rank of officer.)
Another 40 sworn bureau members are eligible to retire in July.
The vacancies have continued to contribute to slower response times on calls for service, the report said. Fewer officers were available to respond to a record 92 homicides, 1,288 shootings and 63 traffic fatalities.
Service calls went up for several years before flattening to about 260,000 a year from 2018 to 2020. Last year, the calls dropped by about 10,000 to 250,914.
Yet it took officers an average of 12 minutes to respond to high-priority emergency calls last year — 4 minutes slower than the average 8.2-minute response time in 2020, according to the Budget Office.
A City Council work session is set for 2 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss the Police Bureau budget request and those of other public safety bureaus.
The Police Bureau is still working to rebuild its recruitment program.
It cut background investigators who check applicants’ personal histories from 18 to seven in 2020 due to budget cuts. It also lost its three-member recruiting team around the same time when the lead recruiter resigned and the two others were placed on patrol to fill shifts.
Police hired no officers in fiscal 2020-2021 but hired 24 in the current fiscal year, about three a month between July and Feb. 28.
The bureau received one-time money in the fall to support two limited-term positions in the city’s Bureau of Human Resources to help police recruit sworn officers and civilian police staff. One position has been filled on a part-time basis and the other remains open.
Two officers also are currently assigned to recruitment full time, attending job fairs and other events, according to the Budget Office.
Sgt. Trevor Tyler, who was born and raised in Portland and was assigned to the bureau’s personnel division in September, said he’s eager to help the bureau return to full staffing.
“This is not the easiest time to come into this profession, but it might be one of the most important times,” Chief Chuck Lovell said in a recent Police Bureau podcast. He said he’s looking for recruits who are eager to be part of an evolving police agency, and who are committed to serving the community.
The bureau has asked for $418,668 for six administrative specialists to serve as civilian background investigators to jump-start the hiring process.
The bureau also needs to recruit a diverse pool of officers, budget analysts said, noting that women and people of color made up 18% of sworn officers in fiscal 2020-21, compared to 44% the year before.
The law enforcement profession nationally has struggled to find applicants. Portland’s new four-year contract with the police union includes a $5,000 hiring bonus and other incentives to attract and retain officers.
The Police Bureau also must plan for attrition due to anticipated retirements, the analysts said.
Four upcoming months likely will result in more retirements than usual because of 27-day pay periods that help boost pension calculations: this July, December 2023, June 2024 and November 2024.
As of June 2024, 22% of the bureau’s current sworn staff will be eligible for retirement, the budget office said.
“Though vacancy savings from separations can be used to fund overtime from the reduction in staff, this is not a financial or operationally sustainable strategy for officers doing the work,” the budget analysis said.
The bureau also is seeking $3.4 million for 33 more public safety specialists, the unarmed employees who handle low-level matters to free patrol officers to respond to emergencies.
They help with non-injury traffic crashes, attend community events, help with traffic on the perimeter of a crime scene and do follow-up on property crimes by phone or in person if there’s no immediate suspect information.
Currently, 20 of 34 authorized specialist jobs are filled. The unfilled positions are frozen until completion of an outside evaluation of the work.
The bureau is asking to increase the total to 67, but the Budget Office recommended putting the request on hold pending the study results.
Also in the budget is a request for $694,603 in continued funding for six full-time positions to administer records requests and provide technology support for a future body- worn camera program.
The body camera program is estimated to cost $7.6 million over the next three years, but could be offset with a federal grant of $1.3 million. The three-year estimate includes one-time and ongoing costs for hardware, technical support and staffing
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