Pandemic, budget cuts slows PPB recruiting

Multnomah County

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Police say the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the millions of dollars cut from the Portland Police Bureau’s budget last year, has drastically slowed their ability to hire new officers.

This is happening as the bureau faces a record low staffing shortage and Portland faces a record-high homicide rate. Sergeant Trevor Tyler, who leads PPB’s Personnel Division, says the bureau has received around 1,000 applications since the beginning of the year — but they’re currently only able to process under a dozen each month.

“We need a lot more officers, but the process to get them to a position where they can actually do what the job is lengthy and there’s nothing that I can do to speed that up,” Tyler explained.

Tyler, a second-generation Portland officer, tells us it can currently take eight months up to one year before a candidate completes the application process — whereas before, candidates were given a conditional offer and sworn in anywhere from three to six months after filling out an application.

Background investigators are integral to the application process, Tyler tells us. Yet, he says the PPB has about half the number of background investigators they had in 2020.  

“We lost several of them in 2020 when no one really knew what the forecast was going to be like for hiring more officers — several of those investigators were let go,” Tyler said. “We brought several of them back, we now have eight. Each one of my backgrounders at any given time is doing between 15-25 investigations and that’s a big caseload to handle. And they are constantly at varying stages of the investigation process with each one of them.”

Newly hired officers are sent to the basic training academy in Salem run by the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards & Training, but the pandemic has delayed recruitment even further. Since COVID, the state agency’s protocols shrunk class capacity to 40 officers. 

“Every agency in the state of Oregon, Coos Bay, Beaverton, Hillsboro, any agency that wants to have a certified police officer is going to send them down to Salem for 16 weeks — and all of our agencies are trying to vie for those 40 spots that are open,” Tyler said. 

“There’s no space for them in the academy because of how COVID shut things down. They’ve had to send people back to their agencies and then they’ve opened it back up and they brought people back.”

This pushed the timeline for open slots in the academy back even further.

“So if I hire someone today, they’re not going to go to the academy until April. If I hire someone at the end of December, they’re not going to be able to go to the academy until May. I need to be able to forecast how many officers I’m going to hire, because right now, as it stands, I’m warehousing officers.”

Tyler said he’s hiring people as police officers, but he has no mechanism in place to train them at the moment because of a delay with the certification that’s necessary for them to become state-certified officers.

The academy only has 40 seats and Tyler says agencies across the state are vying for the open spots. But even after receiving a state certification, Portland police recruits aren’t considered viable officers until they’ve spent a few months training with a field officer and then attended PPB’s 10-week advanced academy.

Tyler tells KOIN 6 the PPB is losing out on good candidates because the process is taking so long and says some candidates have been so eager to serve the public that they’ve applied with other agencies.

Earlier this month Mayor Ted Wheeler said he wants to bring back 25 retired Portland Police officers to fill some of the vacancies. Tyler says some retirees have expressed interest in returning to the force but they’re apprehensive.

“People that are drawn to law enforcement want to believe that they’re the good guy and I think they want to believe that the community that they serve in also believes that they’re a good person – and that’s what we need to get back to is community trust, right?” Tyler said. “If there’s a relationship between the community and there’s a relationship between the officers, that’s where we can solve problems. But if that relationship is not there, it’s going to be an uphill battle, trying to get people to come and be officers here.”

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