PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Police Bureau announced Friday that it will reduce the number of calls that it dispatches officers to “in person." It will instead direct officers to use the phone to contact people who’ve reported some types of non-life-threatening crimes. 

The new policy is meant to lessen officers’ exposure to the new coronavirus that’s circulating in the community, and to try to increase the chances that large numbers of the force won’t be stricken down by the virus at once. Police say they need to retain the ability to respond to life-threatening emergencies, their number one priority.

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The bureau said it’s encouraging the public to go online to make reports that aren’t about crimes in progress or “life safety issues” that necessitate an in-person police response. Online reports can be made by visiting www.portlandoregon.gov/police/cor/, and non-emergency reports can be made by phone at 503-823-3333.

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People reporting emergencies still should call 911.

After Friday afternoon’s initial announcement and some public concern and confusion over what it meant, police spokesman Sgt. Kevin Allen clarified that police will still send officers to all sort of incidents -- including sexual assaults, armed robberies, violence involving weapons, fist fights, home burglaries, business burglaries and many car crashes.

Allen said police will be unlikely to respond to car thefts or car break-ins if they’re not in progress and there are no suspects to pursue. The same goes for identity theft or burglaries of a shed next to someone’s home, he said.

“We’re talking about lower level stuff,” Allen said. “The bigger stuff, of course we’re going to respond. ...We’re just going to be looking for any opportunity we can to use the phone to do our job.”

Allen said every online report of a crime will be reviewed by a sworn police officer, and it’s “still very important” that the public reports crime.

“Thank you for your understanding and patience as we work through this unprecedented situation," Police Chief Jami Resch said in a video announcement to the community.

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“Portland Police Bureau members are working collaboratively with our partners to prepare for and mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Resch said, in a written statement. "We value our face-to-face interactions with the public, but recognize the need to do our part to protect the public and our members.”

Resch said the bureau will update the public on additional changes.

“We appreciate the public’s understanding of our need to limit face-to-face contacts for the benefit of all,” Resch said.

-- Aimee Green; agreen@oregonian.com; @o_aimee

This article was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving heath issue. 

In Oregon, the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains low, according to officials. At KGW, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: kgw.com/FactsNotFear