When Mayor Sam Adams
and new Police Chief Mike Reese
rolled out their revised police budget last month, they said it was all about preserving public safety in Portland
by keeping cops on the streets.
"This budget is about protecting the operational integrity of the Portland Police Bureau," Reese was quoted as saying in a news release. "Units like Mounted Patrol and Cold Case are what Portlanders want and expect out of their police bureau, and our priority is keeping officers – newly hired and veterans alike – on the streets as peacekeepers."
It was a dust-up over the budget that precipitated Adams' decision last month to fire former Chief Rosie Sizer and take over management of the police bureau from Commissioner Dan Saltzman. Sizer had infuriated Adams when she held a news conference to say Adams' first proposed budget would cut the number of uniformed officers.
Adams and Reese rolled out a revised budget May 18 that Adams said would restore 25 sworn officer positions as well as popular programs like the Mounted Patrol Unit, Cold Case Unit and school-resource officers.
But there was a price to pay. Adams said the bureau would have to shed 35 civilian jobs. Union leaders at AFSCME Council 75 cried foul, saying it wasn't fair to balance the cuts on the backs of nonsworn employees.
Now it appears laying off civilians won't keep so many cops on the beat after all. This week, sworn officers bureau-wide are being urged to apply for some of the civilian positions being cut in the revised budget. It's worth noting uniformed officers are paid significantly more than civilian employees.
Cops are being told in an electronic memo about eight openings for background investigators (the revised budget cut 12 of those civilian positions), along with openings for a fleet coordinator and a law instructor at the Training Division.
Lou Sinniger, council representative for AFSCME 75, notes that for years when the bureau couldn't hire enough cops, the goal was to put civilians on desk jobs so more officers could patrol the streets.
Now, Sinniger says, it appears the bureau is reversing that course by shedding civilians and taking cops off the street to work pushing paper instead.
"That's a waste of officers. Whoever's concocting this is just insane," Sinniger says. "The police bureau was so proud of itself to have finally filled all of its positions and to have completed training on the budget that they were given. And now they're going to take them off the street and put them on desk jobs? I can't believe it."
Detective Mary Wheat, a police spokeswoman, says final decisions haven't been made yet. But she says it is very expensive to hire and train uniformed officers — Sizer said the 25 sworn officers she would have been forced to cut cost the city $1.7 million to hire and train.
"Of course we don't want to lose nonsworn (employees) either," Wheat says. "They're part of our team, and those are very difficult choices to make."
Wheat says the bureau would like to fill civilian positions with cops who don't patrol the streets, such as those in the Telephone Reporting Unit or those assigned to light duty.