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Police chief discusses staffing problems at gang-related meeting

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Police staffing and gang enforcement issues were discussed at the Aug. 26 meeting of the Portland Police Collaborative.Police Chief Mike Marshman pleaded with a gathering of those working to reduce gang violence to understand his staffing reassignments in response to a growing shortage of officers.

Marshman said that although he is transferring some officers and sergeants from specialized units to the streets to fill vacant patrol position, he also wants them to have enough time to get out of their cars and interact with young people in the community.

“I’m a little but terrified of what the next cuts might be. Some crimes might not be investigated to have that time for the kids,” Marshman said at the Friday meeting of the Portland Peace Collaborative, which includes law enforcement officials, social service workers, pastors and others working to reduce gang violence.

Marshman said his reassignments are necessary because the Portland Police Bureau currently has around 70 vacant officer positions. Among the reassignments are five officers and a sergeant who are being transferred out of the Gang Enforcement Team. He called them "razor cuts."

But the number of vacancies is expected to increase by around 30 this fall because of scheduled retirements and other expected departures, Marshman said, which will likely require even more adjustments in the spring because the bureau is not hiring replacements fast enough.

“If we need to make more cuts again in the spring, well, I’m asking the pastors for help,” Marshman said, only half in jest.

Marshman discussed the vacancies shortly after the most recent GET figures were announced. Although gang violence had been dropping or holding steady since April, a surge of eight shootings over the past two weeks pushed the August total up to 15 with more than a week remaining in the month. The number of incidents investigated by GET was 100 as of Aug. 21, setting 2016 on track to have the highest level of recorded gang violence since last year, when 193 incidents were investigated.

All of the eight incidents were shootings, including two where people were known to be wounded. Despite the increase over the past three months, the reported total was still 19 less than the same time last year, however.

Problems implementing the city’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over the bureau’s previous use of excessive force against the mentally ill was also discussed at the gathering. Deanna Mitchell-Wesson, Mayor Charlie Hales’ policy director for public safety, said the Community Oversight Advisory Board that is part of the settle is on a 60-day hiatus while its structure and operation is reconsidered.

The volunteer board of community members is suppose to advise the city on how to implement the settlement, including recommending and monitoring changes within the bureau. But is has been plagued with difficulties, including unruly audience members who have repeatedly disrupted its meetings, preventing much of its work from getting done, Mitchell-Wesson said.

Mitchell-Wesson distributed copies of the agreement’s goals, duties, structure and procedures for the board, along with a survey seeking feedback on how it has been working and suggestions for improvement to those at the gathering.

“We are looking for ideas,” said Mitchell-Wesson, explaining that the terms of the current members expire on Jan. 31 of next year, create what she called a “reboot opportunity.”

Mitchell-Wesson also urged those at the gathering to encourage those they know to apply for the approximately 100 sworn and non-sworn jobs currently open at the bureau.

For a previous Portland Tribune story on the issues, see http://portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/319020-197941-gang-team-may-be-trimmed-as-violence-drops