Portland police chief: Addressing staffing shortage a 'top priority'

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The City of Portland plans to vote on the ratification of a new police union contract at a City Council meeting Wednesday.

The activist group Don't Shoot Portland said it will hold a peaceful protest Tuesday at City Hall and then camp out overnight so it can "fight against the contract" at Wednesday's meeting.

READ MORE: Don't Shoot Portland plans to protest police union contract

In advance of those two events, Portland Police Bureau Chief of Police Mike Marshman issued a news release Tuesday morning, in which he addresses the reasons for the new contract, the use of body cameras and what the department is doing to address its relationship with the community.

Reasons for the new contract

Marshman said one of the department's top priorities is correcting a "staffing crisis" in which it has lost members while Portland's population continues to increase.

According to the police chief, the department has 65 current vacancies, with at least 21 more expected in October. As a result of the staffing shortage, Marshman said the average officer is responding to 35 percent more dispatched calls as compared to 2012.

The department has tried to address the staffing shortage by reassigning officers from specialty units, such as gang enforcement and traffic division, to regular work patrols. But the positions in the specialty units are not being filled.

Marshman said the new police union contract will help address the staffing shortage, attract more qualified and diverse candidates and provide additional incentives to retain current officers and attract new officers to Portland.

Use of body cameras

There is no language about body cameras in the new contract, Marshman said.

Marshman said body cameras are beneficial and "add another layer of legitimacy and transparency," but said there is still more to discuss about "data retention, expense, public records requests, privacy issues, etc.," as the department makes decisions about the implementation of a policy on body cameras.

"As technology rapidly evolves, these issues could change and need to be readdressed prior to implementation," Marshman said.

Police and community relations

Marshman said the bureau is making changes to address the relationship between the police and community, including: 

  • Equity training for officers, which includes lessons on institutional racism and the history of race relations in Portland. New training on implicit bias is forthcoming.
  • Changes to recruiting and hiring processes to build a diverse workforce.
  • Community engagement has been prioritized, whether it's through events, conversations or social media.
  • A continued partnership with the Department of Justice to "fulfill and exceed the expectations in the Settlement Agreement."
  • Seek a balance in policing a community where social services have deteriorated and traditional enforcement strategies are no longer effective.

Read the entire news release below:

On June 27, 2016, I was sworn in as the Chief of Police for the Portland Police Bureau. On that day, I stated that I have three goals for every member of the Bureau: 
- Build community trust, 
- Build internal legitimacy, and; 
- Achieve Department of Justice compliance. 
These goals remain a constant focus for all members of the Bureau and we are continuing to move forward in all three areas. 
I also stated that the Bureau has a well-documented staffing shortage which is a top priority to address. Relationship-based policing is a priority for me and to effectively do that and respond to calls for service, we must fill our vacancies. 
This crisis has been further amplified by both a significant and steady increase in population and calls for service, and a complexity in calls that take longer for officers to resolve. Finally, there is a shared expectation by the community and me that officers will spend more time building relationships and preventing crime. 
The result is that callers to 911 are waiting longer for a police officer to arrive for emergency calls--sometimes hours for non-emergency crimes. Officers often cannot investigate or follow-up on low-level crimes and public safety issues (non-injury crashes, thefts with no suspects, etc.). Officers go from call to call, and there is less time for community engagement. The average officer is responding to 35 percent more dispatched calls as compared to 2012. Finally, we have overworked officers, and in many cases, our precincts are now unable to find officers to fill the extra shifts that are a result of the large number of current vacancies. 
The Bureau has implemented strategies to try to maintain our core function of responding to calls for service -- such as assigning officers from specialty units to regularly work patrol. Later this month, 20 officers and sergeants from units such as the Gang Enforcement Team, Traffic Division and others will be permanently reassigned to patrol and their current roles will go unfilled. More cuts to those units are likely in the upcoming months. 
We are actively recruiting officers, but it must be noted that due to a rigorous testing and background process, only 1 out of every 20 candidates is actually hired and then it takes 18 months before an officer is fully trained. Further complicating matters, the Bureau is competing with nearly every agency in the state and region for qualified candidates. 
The collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the City of Portland and the Portland Police Association would help the Bureau attract qualified and diverse candidates to our agency. 
The CBA would also provide an incentive for officers currently working at other agencies to come to Portland. Lateral hires do not have to go through the state academy, significantly reducing training time, which benefits both the lateral hire and the community. 
Finally, I've been to more retirement parties than I can count. I watch our well-trained, knowledgeable officers, who have a strong connection to this community, walk out the door and immediately go to work for another police agency. We must accept this reality and retain those officers. The CBA provides an incentive for retiring officers to continue their career in Portland. 
Though it is not part of the CBA, there has been significant discussion regarding the policy for body cameras. I want to make it clear that the Police Bureau believes body cameras are beneficial and add another layer of legitimacy and transparency. However, there are still many questions related to data retention, expense, public records requests, privacy issues, etc. to be discussed. As technology rapidly evolves, these issues could change and need to be readdressed prior to implementation. The community should be assured the Police Bureau has a solid directive review process that emphasizes public input prior to any directive, including body cameras, being implemented. 
Portland Police officers are doing a tremendous job despite the Bureau's low staffing levels. We are at a time when there is an important local and national conversation about police and community relations. We have been paying very close attention to these conversations and as a result, we have been making changes: 
- We have implemented equity training for officers, beginning with a history lesson on race relations in Portland and institutional racism that has existed throughout our society. Training will be ongoing and will soon include training on implicit bias. 
- We have made significant changes to our recruitment and hiring processes in order to build a diverse workforce. 
- We have made community engagement a priority, whether it's a simple conversation or an event. A portion of this work is shared via social media, so the community can see what is occurring in our city. 
- We continue our partnership with the Department of Justice to fulfill and exceed the expectations in the Settlement Agreement. 
- Finally, we continue to seek the balance of how to police in a community where social services have broken down and traditional enforcement strategies are no longer an effective tool in many cases. 
As we prepare to see hundreds of seasoned officers retire, we must recruit and retain the next generation of officers who will fill their shoes -- officers who are infused with Portland values and who understand the complexities of 21st century policing. 
Portland Police officers deserve your support. They need your support. As their Chief, they absolutely have my support. 
Michael Marshman is Chief of Police for the Portland Police Bureau. 


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