Portland Mayor Will Bring Proposal for Unarmed Police Officers to City Council Next Week

The Public Safety Support Specialists, or PS3s, will be non-sworn officers who do not carry guns.

Mayor Ted Wheeler talks to police while taunted by protesters on April 29, 2017. (Joe Michael Riedl)

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler plans to bring a new policing pilot program before City Council for final approval on Wednesday, Dec. 5.

The Public Safety Support Specialists, or PS3s, will be non-sworn officers who do not carry guns.

"They will be engaged in the community in non-emergency calls, so that's things like property crimes, break-ins," Wheeler tells WW.

The PS3s grew out of a proposal in the 2016 police union contract approved under then-Mayor Charlie Hales to create Community Service Officers who would respond to minor property crimes and nuisance calls, among other things.

To fund the program, Wheeler cut the Mounted Patrol—cops on horseback—from the 2017-2018 city budget. A year later, City Council set a January 1, 2019, deadline to implement the PS3s. While none of the PS3s will be hired by that date, the Portland Police Bureau says it will begin processing some background checks for potential hires in January.

The police union has been in formal negotiations with the city over the new positions since July. Yet there's still some dispute about how autonomous the unarmed officers will be.

Portland Police Association president Daryl Turner says the PS3s will not respond to calls for service without a sworn officer, but they may provide support by manning the front desks at precincts or waiting for tow trucks at car accidents. That's a much smaller, less public role than what Portland mayors have pledged—and some observers say keeping the officers off the streets is a bait-and-switch.

City Council will vote on whether to ratify the agreement between the city and the union, the last step necessary before the Portland Police Bureau can launch the hiring process.

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