Recovery

Mayor Would Fund 58 New Portland Police Officers, Replace Firefighters' Breathing Equipment

The added officers will help the bureau better respond to 911 calls, reduce overtime costs to fill patrol shifts and help patrol officers achieve his and Police Chief Danielle Outlaw's vision of officers "getting out of their cars and getting into their communities."

by Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore. / May 1, 2018

(TNS) - Mayor Ted Wheeler's proposed police budget calls for funding 58 new sworn officer positions, including 52 for patrol, four for the training division and two for the Behavioral Health Unit.

Wheeler said he never thought the bureau's request for 93 officers was viable, and called his plan a more ''reasonable, pragmatic and effective approach'' that will help steer the Bureau along what will be a multi-year path toward community-centered policing.

"It's not just about more cops,'' the mayor said. "Simply hiring more officers isn't going to maximize public safety. It isn't going to address the complex needs of our community today, and it's not going to improve trust or accountability all on its own.''

The mayor's $225,122 police spending proposal would represent a 3.7 percent, or $6.7 million increase in the police budget, and bring the bureau's authorized strength from 946 to 1,004 officers.

The added officers will help the bureau better respond to 911 calls, reduce overtime costs to fill patrol shifts and help patrol officers achieve his and Police Chief Danielle Outlaw's vision of officers "getting out of their cars and getting into their communities,'' the mayor said.

Increased retirements, a large number of recruits who remain on probation, as well as increased calls for police service have forced the bureau to pull officers from specialty units to fill patrol shifts. Through January, Portland police have spent $2.8 million this fiscal year in overtime due to staffing shortages – a $700,000 increase from the overtime spending at the same time last year, according to the city budget office.

Officer Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, called the mayor's proposal "a first step'' towards addressing the bureau's inadequate staffing, and said he hopes the City Council will work with the mayor and police chief to address the bureau's long-term needs. The union argues the bureau should have closer to 1,200 officers.

"This is a move in the right direction to reach PPB's primary goals: responding to calls for service in a timely manner, investigating crimes, proactively policing our neighborhoods, and continuing to build on the community policing model established in the 1990s,'' Turner said, in a prepared statement.

Four new training officer positions will allow for a new lead instructor to teach "ethics and procedural justice,'' another to develop curriculum on "leadership development,'' one to help with training on patrol procedures and one for the bureau's advanced academy.

With two more officers, the bureau's Behavioral Health Unit will be able to increase from three to five teams to try to reduce the number of contacts that people in mental health crises have with police by connecting them to treatment and other services. Each team is made up of an officer and a clinician.

There were 1,012 referrals for service made to officers in the bureau's Behavioral Health Unit in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, but the unit was able to assign 44 percent of those referrals for case follow-up. The goal is to connect people in mental health crisis who officers encounter on the street to appropriate treatment and community resources to reduce their contacts with police and the criminal justice system. With the two new teams, the bureau's Behavioral Health Unit expects to serve 250 more clients, and respond to 50 percent of its referrals, according to police bureau officials.

While the mayor wants to set aside $306,150 to add three analyst jobs to the bureau's Professional Standards Division, to expand internal police audits, City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero was dismayed that the mayor's budget didn't fund one of two requested positions for the Independent Police Review office under her oversight.

Wheeler said he was disturbed by recent audits and reports by a city-hired compliance officer that found the bureau's data collection severely lacking.

The mayor's plan covers a new complaint investigator for the Independent Police Review Division, the intake center for complaints against Portland police, but did not fund the requested $141,213 for a senior management analyst. The job allows the office to do data-driven policy reviews of the Police Bureau, the auditor said in a statement she released during Wheeler's press conference on his proposed budget.

Wheeler and City Budget Director Andrew Scott said they believe the auditor's office already has funding for that job. "That position will get filled and it will get funded,'' the mayor said.

Yet the auditor explicitly said in bold type: "There are no 'existing resources' to pay for it.''

"While I believe the Mayor's support for the senior management analyst position is genuine, there are no existing resources that I'm aware of to fund it,'' Hull Caballero said in an email later.

The mayor's plan also calls for: $101,628 to fund a non-sworn staff member to serve as a liaison, and first-responder to the homeless community, one-time funding of $50,000 to have academics partner with the bureau to do an analysis of police bureau stop data, two administrative specialists to speed up police response to public records requests and a data specialist to help analyze hiring decisions with regard to increasing the diversity of the force.

"Policing is becoming a contentious, divisive and highly emotional issue,'' Wheeler said. "I hope we are able to actually realize the vision that I ran on, and the chief and I support, and build out that vision before people lose confidence in our ability to do so.''

The mayor's proposed $126 million fire bureau budget marks a 3.4 percent increase from current spending. It provides a one-time $2.4 million to replace all firefighters' breathing equipment.

Fire Chief Mike Myers and Deputy Fire Chief Sara Boone have described the breathing apparatus as vital for firefighters' respiratory protection, allowing them to inhale air from a cylindrical bottle worn on their back when fighting a blaze.

In the last three years, firefighters in Portland have experienced "breakdowns and malfunctions'' with the equipment, and several firefighters have experienced what's called a "no air situation'' inside a working fire, Boone said.

The equipment, purchased in 2002, no longer can be upgraded to meet 2018 standards set by the National Fire Protection Association and National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, they said.

The money would replace the high-pressure air cylinder, pressure regulator and face piece that are connected to a backpack harness. There are 369 breathing apparatuses and 1,200 air cylinders for the fire bureau, as well as 774 face masks for each firefighter.


———

©2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

Visit The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) at www.oregonian.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.