This week, the Portland City Council will take a final vote whether to hire police officers who don't carry guns.
If approved, the newly created public safety support specialists, or PS3s, would be unarmed officers who help Portland police respond to low-risk calls. Dozens of other U.S. cities, including San Diego and Jacksonville, Fla., have such officers.
Mayor Ted Wheeler eliminated the mounted patrol to fund 12 community service officers who would provide support to sworn officers and respond to some calls that do not require an armed officer.
The mayor's office and the police union have quarreled over the details of the new positions for almost two years ("Horsin' Around," WW, Nov. 21, 2018). If the City Council votes to approve the negotiated contract between the city and the Portland Police Association, the Police Bureau will begin background checks on prospective PS3s in January.
Critics of the plan, including Commissioner-Elect Jo Ann Hardesty, complain the police union has watered down the original intent of the community service officers. Hardesty says the unarmed officers should not be part of the police union.
One point of confusion and debate? How much autonomy the unarmed officers will have. Wheeler says the officers will do more than just staff front desks.
"We anticipate PS3s having a lot of work to do, especially as we will only hire 12 at the outset," says Sophia June, a spokeswoman for the mayor. "We will be looking forward to expanding the number in future budget cycles when this proves successful."
Here's a look at what the PS3s could do under the proposal:
• Write non-emergency reports that do not involve potential evidence, suspects or crime scenes.
• Do walking patrols, if given permission by a sergeant.
• Wait for tow trucks at non-injury traffic accidents.
• Follow up on property crimes as long as there is no suspect involved.
• Help direct traffic at street closures.
• Process evidence.
• Call for backup.
• Attend neighborhood and community meetings. However, the ordinance says PS3s may not replace sworn officers at community events.
With a sworn officer, PS3s may:
• Help search for missing persons.
• Help canvass neighborhoods or help inventory evidence when sworn officers execute a search warrant.
PS3s may not:
• Respond to calls for service to active crime scenes.
• Perform welfare checks where a weapon or drugs are involved.
• Answer nuisance calls involving drugs or possible crimes.
• Drive a patrol car.
Correction: After press deadlines, the mayor's office clarified the PS3 officers duties, including walking patrols with a supervising officers' permission.