Portland Police Chief Agrees on Need to Create Computer Crimes Unit

While Police Chief Larry O'Dea acknowledged a need for the new unit, he also noted it cannot be addressed by moving resources.

by Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian / April 9, 2015

(TNS) -- Portland, Ore., Police Chief Larry O'Dea, responding to consultant findings that the Police Bureau has major investigative gaps, said he favors adding computer crimes and auto theft units and hiring crime analysts to help figure out what offenses to address.

The chief spoke Wednesday to the City Council after Richard Brady, president of the California-based Matrix Consulting Group, presented a 200-plus page study to commissioners.

It recommends that the bureau add detectives to its sex crimes investigation unit, bring back an auto theft unit, create a computer crimes unit and assign more detectives to the three precincts so property crimes "get some sort of follow-up.''

"You've got some major gaps that you typically don't see in some major departments,'' Brady told the council.

O'Dea said the bureau historically has moved investigators and officers around to address emerging crime trends.

But he added, "Some of our gaps in service cannot be addressed by moving resources. Emerging and significant issues like computer crime require specialized training and positions to effectively address.''

The chief further noted that theft from vehicles is up 30 percent, compared to last year at this time, and auto theft is also increasing.

"I think that the staffing study offers us the opportunity to help us continue the conversation about 'right-sizing' the Police Bureau,'' O'Dea said.

Brady identified four key themes from his study: More needs to be done to cement the bureau's relationship with the community. The bureau needs help analyzing its crime data. The force needs more flexibility to move officers around in its patrol operations and investigations branches. Management needs to relay a "consistent message'' to its officers.

The staffing study called for a net increase of 27 full-time positions, including three more school resource officers, six detectives to be spread across the three patrol precincts and a full-time team of six officers assigned to the Special Emergency Reaction Team.

The study also recommended setting up a new "Organized Crime Division'' to oversee gang enforcement, drugs and vice, and human trafficking investigations.

"We think they should be in one part of the bureau so same suspects can be worked by common detectives,'' Brady said.

Mayor Charlie Hales, who serves as police commissioner, said he's intrigued by that idea. O'Dea said he's a bit reluctant to make that move, but does recognize that there could be benefits.

The chief said he fears that such an arrangement might mean resources from human trafficking or drug enforcement cases, for example, could suffer because detectives might be pulled from those areas to help with the gang and gun violence now affecting the city. When all detectives were centralized in the bureau's downtown offices, domestic violence investigations were given less attention, O'Dea said. Domestic violence cases now are under a separate family services division.

The bureau this year pulled two officers from each precinct to bolster its gang enforcement team. O'Dea also said he didn't agree with the study's suggestion to reduce the number of officers assigned to gang enforcement.

Brady, of Matrix Consulting, said the bureau's span of control between supervisors and the officers they direct is appropriate, except in the Traffic Division where a supervisor directs one officer. But the transfers and rotations of supervisors to different jobs is done "too frequently to be effective.'' He said supervisors should stay in one position for at least two years before being transferred to another job.

And, in response to questions from city Commissioner Amanda Fritz, Brady said he found the staffing of the bureau's mounted patrol unit appropriate.

With a large number of retirements anticipated in the next three years, Citizen Crime Commission's Executive Director Suzanne Hayden urged the council to ensure the bureau doesn't suspend hiring and makes sure there are sufficient background check investigators on staff to ensure vacancies are filled.

Officer Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, said the consultants' recommendation to add 23 positions in the bureau doesn't go far enough. To adequately address the U.S. Department of Justice's mandated reforms, improve police response to mental health crisis calls, address the increased gang violence and engage in community-based policing, "we need to have adequate staffing.''

The mayor promised the consultants that their study would be carefully reviewed.

"Your work is not going to be a shelf study,'' Hales said. "It will inform how we do our work.''

©2015 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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