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Portland Proposes Millions for Police Body Cams, New Cops

Mayor Ted Wheeler will seek $400,000 to hire back 25 recently retired officers to fill vacancies and $2.6 million for body cameras and a civilian dean of police training. The City Council will vote on the proposal in late November.

(TNS) — Portland, Ore., Mayor Ted Wheeler is expected to seek about $400,000 next month to hire back 25 recent police retirees to fill some vacancies and more than $2 million to buy body-worn cameras and hire a civilian dean of police training.

The proposals will go before the City Council for a vote in late November as part of the fall budget adjustment process.

The city budget office has estimated council members have an extra $62 million to spend from a surplus to the city’s general fund, though current city rules say half must be set aside for capital projects.

The U.S. Justice Department directed the city to equip officers with body cameras and put a civilian in charge of police training to get back into compliance with a 2014 settlement agreement calling for policing changes to address excessive force complaints.

Sam Adams, who serves as Wheeler’s director of strategic innovations, discussed the spending proposals during a meeting Tuesday night of the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing. The community group formed to help oversee the federally mandated police reforms.

The City Council has scheduled a work session on the budget Nov. 4 and is expected to vote on Nov. 17.

Adams said about 84 Portland police officers have either retired or are about to retire and will be eligible to be rehired in the next year.

The Police Bureau now has 128 vacancies in an authorized force of 916 sworn officers, the bureau’s lowest authorized strength in 28 years, according to police figures.

Officers are leaving faster than the bureau can hire to fill their spots, Adams said, so the retire-rehire program is considered “the only way in the near term we can get police officers on the force.”

The retirees would return at their top pay and collect their city pensions at the same time, but they would lose seniority, meaning they would typically work the night or afternoon shifts.

The past retire-rehire program allowed officers to work up to six more years as an officer or up to two years as a sergeant or detective. It’s unclear what the restrictions would be if the program is approved next month.

While the bureau has the money for its vacant authorized positions, the $400,000 would cover additional costs for bringing back retired officers, including the city’s contribution under the state’s Public Employee Retirement System. The retirees would receive their pensions through the city’s separate Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund, but return as employees under the state retirement system.

The proposals discussed Tuesday night didn’t include any additional funding for the bureau’s still-to-be-created Focused Intervention Team, a new unit of officers tasked with addressing unprecedented gun violence in the city.

The bureau, in consultation with a community oversight group, has selected Sgt. Freddie Jackson and Sgt. Jim Townley to supervise the team. So far, 22 officers have applied for the 12 spots. The team aims to launch by the end of November.

Some people at the meeting asked how the city will vet retired officers who are brought back.

“Will you rehire officers who have had complaints internally or externally?” asked Ann Campbell, a member of the Community-Engaged Policing Committee.

Adams said hiring decisions will be at the discretion of Police Chief Chuck Lovell, but residents will be part of an interview panel and those involved in the selection process will be made aware of any sustained complaints from an officer’s personnel file.

Samuel Diaz, a senior policy adviser in the mayor’s office, said the retire-rehire program allows the bureau to put officers “who are trained, who are experienced, who have been vetted” back on the streets while working to fill the vacancies.

Hiring new officers has been difficult, with fewer state police basic academies offered during the pandemic. The bureau also lost its three-member recruiting team during the last fiscal year — the lead recruiter resigned and two officers were placed back on patrol to fill shifts. Police also reduced background investigators who check into applicants’ personal histories from 18 to seven due to budget cuts.

Adams said the $2.6 million for body cameras amounts to a “down payment to at least start the purchase process for equipment.”

City lawyers, the police union and Justice Department are still working out a policy governing how officers will use the cameras and if police will get to view footage before they talk to investigators in uses of deadly force.

The bureau also anticipates one-time funding to hire an outside consultant to analyze the Portland police response to protests in the past year.

The Justice Department found the bureau failed to properly report, analyze or investigate police use of force during months of racial justice protests sparked by George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer.

In other community safety requests:

— Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty will seek about $1.1 million from an already-approved $4.7 million set aside in a contingency fund for the expansion of the Portland Street Response. The program sends an unarmed paramedic and social worker to help people experiencing homelessness or in a mental health crisis.

The money would go to hire 13 full-time employees to bring the total to 24 and allow Street Response to expand from its pilot area in the Lents neighborhood to citywide with three vans by March 22, according to Kristin Johnson, Hardesty’s financial policy adviser.

— Commissioner Mingus Mapps, who oversees the Bureau of Emergency Communications, plans to seek more than $1 million to help ease the long wait times for people calling 911 emergency and non-emergency lines.

About 1 million calls are made a year, with almost half considered non-emergency calls. There are 28 hard lines for non-emergency calls , so when the 29th person calls on a non-emergency line, “they get hung up on,” according to Shannon Carney, Mapps’ senior policy adviser.

“So we have this unbelievable number of calls coming in, and we simply don’t have the technology or the staff to take those calls,” she said.

Mapps wants $213,610 for two limited-term training supervisors for call takers and dispatchers, $91,989 for new dispatch technologies and $838,000 for expanded online support and overtime for training on the transition to a new triaging system to divert low-level medical calls to a smaller medic team in place of a large fire bureau and ambulance response.

The new technology would allow people calling the non-emergency line to file a police report either on a web-based app or by phone or text message. The bureau also wants an automated call-back feature for 911 calls that are abandoned or dropped. Now, it takes dispatchers 2 to 3 minutes to do a callback. There were 12,219 abandoned phone calls in August 2021, Carney said.

There are now 114 call takers, dispatchers and trainees in the Emergency Communications Bureau, which has an authorized staff of 131. The bureau has five training academies scheduled through next year, and anticipates making 35 to 40 new hires, according to Carney.

— Mapps also anticipates calling for an increase in the Police Bureau’s behavioral health response teams. There are now three that pair an officer with a mental health clinician to work with people who suffer from a mental illness and have had multiple contacts with police. There were five teams at one time. He’ll ask to double the Police Bureau’s Service Coordination Team 52-bed capacity. Through a contract with Central City Concern, the team works to find housing and treatment for people with acute drug addiction or mental health issues.

—While there’s a push to increase the unarmed public safety support specialist positions in the Police Bureau, the bureau has only 13 of 34 authorized public safety specialist positions filled now. The council funded 22 of these positions in the 2021-22 budget.

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