Portland police officers will no longer respond in person to calls about many crimes that aren't threatening lives or physical safety, saying that taking crime reports by telephone may decrease opportunities for officers to contract or spread COVID-19.
"We value our face-to-face interactions with the public, but recognize the need to do our part to protect the public and our members," Police Chief Chief Jami Resch said in a statement. "We will continue to keep the public informed with relevant information and we appreciate the public's understanding of our need to limit face-to-face contacts for the benefit of all."
The bureau's statement didn't specify which crimes would qualify as dangerous enough to warrant an in-person response. But a police spokesman told The Oregonian that officers would still respond to sexual assaults, armed robberies, fistfights and home invasions, among other incidents.
The bureau quickly walked back the chief's initial statement, saying that it would still respond to most reports of crimes—just not to some property crime scenes that weren't active.
"Most burglaries, armed robberies, and car crashes will prompt a member response," police spokesman Kevin Allen tells WW. "But if there's a cold ID theft case, or a car theft, then we will encourage the complainant to report online or we can have an officer call. If there's a situation where there's a question about whether an officer should respond, officers are directed to direct that to their chain of command."
The decision comes as the Portland area essentially bunkers down for the next two weeks, with schools, concert venues, stadiums and other public spaces closing until April. The state of emergency is intended to slow the spread of COVID-19, because Oregon health officials have no way of accurately tracking how many people have the virus.
Police will stop staffing community events and increase cleaning of police stations. The bureau is asking people to file police reports online.