PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Police Bureau needs to hire more than 100 officers just to meet its recommended staffing level as violent crimes and homicides reach historic rates.
“It’s a time in the city when there are fewer police officers than really ever have been. At least, certainly in modern memory,” said Lt. Greg Pashley with the PPB. Pashley said budget issues are holding them back from filling the vacant positions.
The shortage means police have to prioritize the calls they respond to and a violent call like a shooting requires the response of many officers at a time. When officers are stretched too thin across multiple high-priority incidents happening simultaneously, the bureau isn’t able to respond swiftly.
“Depending on what’s going on in the city, a lot of calls might not get an immediate response — even an emergency,” Pashley said. “This has happened. Two or three or four things going on that are big incidents. There could be emergency calls that don’t get a quick response.”
Cold calls, like theft reports, are more likely to get a slower response, according to Pashley.
“Response times have gone up drastically,” said Portland Police Association Executive Director Daryl Turner. “Ten years ago, response time was a little over two minutes. The last time I checked a couple years ago it was up to over eight minutes.”
Pashley said the shortage of officers also impacts investigations across a wide spectrum of police service and each case may not receive the amount of attention the community expects. And Pashley said the strain takes a toll on the officers who are spending their shifts responding to one high-priority emergency call after the next.
“It’s also the relationships. The police want to be engaged and in contact with the community,” he said. “It’s frustrating. As a profession, it’s discouraging.”
Turner said a retire-rehire program could help restaff the PPB if the bureau had the budget it needs to hire officers. Turner said bringing officers back cuts down on the time it takes to put new recruits through the academy and training they need to join the bureau.
“What the retire-rehire program is is police officers who retire can come back and help with staffing,” he explained. “So these are people we normally lose to other jobs and agencies.”