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Hales seeks $546,000 to speed up police hiring

Funds sought as gang violence increases to 158 cases

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JONATHAN HOUSE - The Portland Police Association has paid for several billboards around town, using a controversial reference, to advocate for increased police staffing.Mayor Charlie Hales wants the City Council to speed up hiring more police officers during a record-breaking spike in gang violence.

Hales will ask the council to spend $598,000 next week to hire 11 more background investigators to screen applicant to fill 35 officer vacancies in the Portland Police Bureau and an additional 40 vacancies expected to created by upcoming retirements.

The funds will be requested during the annual fall budget adjustment work session set for Tuesday. The council could vote on the request as soon as Nov. 4. The bureau currently has nine background investigators. The new positions would be for the last six months of the current fiscal year.

"I know that sounds like a lot of investigators, but it's a lot of work that needs to be done. Most applicants aren't hired," says Hales.

Hales made the announcement during Friday's biweekly meeting of the Community Peace Collaborative at North Precinct. During the meeting, the Gang Enforcement Team released statistics showing it was investigating 158 incidents of gang violence as of Oct. 22, almost all of them shootings. That's 40 more than the previous record of 118 set it 2012 and a 45 percent increase over last year's total of 109.

"We have a lot of work to do," Hales said when the new figures were released. "We need to arrest and prosecute the people who are breaking the law, but we need to build relationships and offer hope to prevent future gang violence," Hales told those at the meeting, most of whom work with public agencies or nonprofit organizations that offer services to young people.

The announcement also came as the union representing most rank and file bureau employees is pushing the council to hire 700 more officers to help combat the crime increase.

The Portland Police Association has launched a public relations campaign called "Having Enough Police Matters" that includes an online petition and billboards in various parts of the city intended to convey the message the bureau is understaffed.

The title is a play on the Black Live Matter movement that angered some local activists.

“Inadequate staffing in the Police Bureau is hurting our communities and putting all of us at risk. Nothing is more basic to the livability of a city than public safety. We need City Council to take immediate action to fix this critical staffing shortage. Our city and our officers deserve better,” says PPA President Daryl Turner, a Portland police sergeant.

According to Turner, the bureau does not currently have enough officers to respond to calls for service, investigating and solving crimes, address the deadly upswing in gun and gang violence, serve those who are impacted by livability issues surrounding homelessness,

assist citizens with mental illness and those suffering mental health crises; engage in community policing; and ensure the safety of Portland citizens and officers.

"Yet, police bureau staffing levels are dwindling even as our city continues to grow. Officers are forced to do more with less, and the community pays the price. In fact, the police bureau is around 700 hundred officers short of national staffing benchmarks," says Turner, referring to an FBI recommendation.

State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who in running for Portland mayor, told the Portland Tribune editorial board that he supports hiring "significantly more" officers. Wheeler said he had met with the PPA and agreed with its assessment of the situation, but did not propose a specific figure.

Hales spokeswoman Sara Hottman insists the mayor is well aware of the situation.

"Mayor Hales says clearly there is an urgent need. These positions have been budgeted for more than a year; retirements have been more frequent, and with police agencies nationwide hiring, recruiting has been more competitive," Hottman said in an email to the Portland Tribune. "The background investigators are going through the hiring process now, and should be active at the beginning of the year. Mayor Hales encourages people to visit JoinPortlandPolice.com for information on applying," Hottman continued.

The police bureau has lost 190 positions since 2001, according to city personnel figures recently obtained by the Portland Tribune through a public records request. An earlier Portland Tribune story on the issue can be read at www.pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/265871-138823-citys-thin-blue-line-is-getting-thinner.

The PPA campaign includes a website with a petition at OurCityOurPolice.org.