PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Due to ongoing staffing problems, the Portland Police Bureau was — at least initially — unable to respond to multiple reports of street racing that allegedly occurred around the city late at night on March 18, a spokesperson for the bureau said.
PPB Lt. Nathan Sheppard told KOIN 6 News that the limited number of on-duty officers were busy handling other calls when the street racing reports came in at 11:04 p.m. Despite offering overtime to cover some of the weekend shifts, PPB was three officers short of the 17 desired for the Saturday shift, Sheppard said.
At the time of the reported street races, Central Precinct officers were allegedly stretched thin handling several other serious incidents around the city, including a stabbing, a death investigation, a missing elderly person call, a suicide attempt, a serious domestic violence report, a car crash and a mental health crisis.
“Seventeen officers is what we’ve, in the past, determined is the minimum needed to effectively answer 911 calls,” Sheppard said. “ … There were an additional 10 calls holding for a police response. These are very important calls that officers can’t just abandon. Our officers are determined to give the community members they interact with the high level of service they deserve.”
PPB confirmed that it received the street racing reports. However, the bureau failed to say if officers ever responded to the scene. Instead, Sheppard provided KOIN 6 News with a list of reasons why officers are often unable to respond to incidents involving large crowds.
“I think it’s important to remember that street takeovers and speed racing events are often very large in scale,” Sheppard said. “It’s not uncommon to see 200 to 300 people participating, either as drivers or as spectators blocking roadways. Historically, these groups are unfriendly towards law enforcement, which is exacerbated by the fact that during these events they are actively breaking the law.”
The typically large crowds, the number of shooting-related arrests that officers have made at past street races, and recent state legislation that dictates how officers can respond in these situations, all factored into PPB’s lack of response on Saturday, Sheppard said.
“For all [these] reasons, these aren’t calls we can just send one or two officers to,” he said. “They necessitate a large and coordinated response to be addressed safely.”
The legislation that Sheppard referenced was House Bill 2928, which placed limits on the use of tear gas and less-lethal munitions by law enforcement as a method of crowd control. Although put in place to prevent future injuries, like those suffered at the hands of police during the 2020 protests, Sheppard said that the legislation also affects citizens when officers are ineffectively able to respond to a crime.
“Oregon House Bill 2928 was not a suggestion,” he said. “It made very clear that willfully violating its boundaries would mean officers are committing a criminal act punishable by arrest. What really frustrates me is the impact these events have on the community. I’ve heard stories of people being stuck for hours on bridges, or emergency transport vehicles such as AMR having to reroute. Whether you’ve got to get home to pick up your kids from the sitter, or have to get to work, the anger and frustration is going to be there. And if you’re in a rush to get to the hospital, it can be way more than just an annoyance.”
Sheppard said that PPB will continue to address street racing and street “takeover” events, when officers are available. However, despite hiring nearly 100 new officers in the last year, Sheppard added that PPB will remain understaffed until its new recruits can complete the 16-week police academy and training process.
“Our newly hired officers have to attend the State’s Department of Public Safety Standards and Training Basic Police Academy,” he said. “We have already hired officers that aren’t scheduled to attend for another four months. Unfortunately, for us, the academy is responsible for certifying future officers for the entire state, so we can’t necessarily get our officers in seats immediately.”
Once officers complete the basic academy, the City of Portland then puts them through an “advanced” 12-week academy. Then they must go through PPB’s Field Training and Evaluation Program, where their police work is monitored by an experienced officer. At the latest, Sheppard said, new police recruits are typically ready for standard police duty within 18 months.
PPB said no arrests were made in relation to the weekend’s street racing events. PPB did not respond when asked for the specific location of the racing events, if officers ever responded to the scene, or if there are alternative policing methods that can be used during illegal large-crowd events.