Amid staffing shortage, Gresham Police refocuses its efforts

Politics

The Gresham police chief said they're doing "the most we can with what we have"

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Gresham Police Department says it’s hurting for officers after its force dropped by about 10% in the past year. 

The Gresham Police Department said it currently has 115 sworn officers and 12 officer vacancies. In 2020, the department had 127 sworn officers. 

With fewer officers, Police Chief Travis Gullberg is trying to figure out how to do more with less. He decided to suspend the traffic unit and the Neighborhood Enforcement Team starting Jan. 1, 2022. 

“We want to refocus our efforts on reducing violence, especially gun violence in our community. We planned to do that work in the future, but for now I’ve had to realign our staff so that we can make that focus,” he said. 

The police department said there have been nine criminal murders in Gresham so far in 2021. That’s tied for the most homicides reported in a year in the last decade; there were 9 total in 2017, according to the FBI. Police said they’ve responded to 139 shootings so far in 2021 and have had 546 reports from community members of shots fired in the area. 

Gullberg said it’s not just gun violence, domestic violence and child abuse have also increased. He hopes “realigning” his team will allow them to do more investigating into these crimes. 

He said if the department continues to lose staff, he might need to consider suspending additional programs. 

At a press conference Tuesday, Tom Walker, president of the Gresham Police Officers’ Association, which is the police union, said he’s aware of four more officers who plan to leave in coming months. 

While four officers might not seem like a significant number to larger agencies, he said it will have a big impact on a force the size of Gresham’s. 

“When we lose one or two, it’s disastrous for us because also they’re taking all that experience with them and we just can’t provide the level of service that we want to,” Walker said. 

He said he knows the department just gave a conditional job offer to someone recently, but said unfortunately, an officer who’s hired with no prior policing experience will require 18 to 24 months of training before they’re prepared to work independently. 

Ideally, he’d like the department to focus on recruiting lateral officers and incentivizing the officers they have on staff to stay. 

However, he said right now, he’s not seeing efforts made to try and entice officers to work in Gresham. 

Portland Police Bureau also saw more than 100 officers leave its force in the last year. KOIN 6 News asked Walker if Gresham was doing anything to recruit former Portland police officers. 

He looked disappointed when he said, “No, I wish we would.” 

Recruitment is something Gullberg plans to improve and he also sees the value in hiring lateral officers who have worked in other police departments, but is competing against departments in the region and across the country that are also hiring. 

Recently, he said he saw a department in Florida was offering a $5,000 signing bonus. 

“All you can do is offer the best work environment, and job quality. But the reality is, it’s ultimately up to that individual. What happens is if you’re if you’re not able to be competitive in that market, you’re not going to get laterals to come,” he said. 

Gullberg said there are currently no Gresham Police officers in training right now. 

He said the budget is one issue that’s contributing to hiring difficulties, but said the police department is currently working with Gresham City Council to find sustainable funding. He said he hasn’t been asked to make any cuts recently, but the department has had its funding cut within the last two years. 

He emphasized that the new realignment of staff has nothing to do with budget cuts. It’s just what he thinks will be the most effective way to address and investigate violence in the city. 

“It’s literally about doing the most we can with what we have,” he said. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from my city leadership and from my council and mayor, and I’m very appreciative of that. And I know that they want that public safety as a priority for them.” 

KOIN 6 News asked Gresham City Council to discuss the police department’s budget. The communications manager for the City of Gresham responded with a statement that did not mention what budget changes were being discussed. 

Tom Walker spoke at a press conference held by Sandy Stan Pulliam, who’s running for Oregon governor in 2022. Pulliam said he supports providing better funding for police and if elected, would work to increase the number of officers in the state.

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