Shuffling Officers is Not Problem Solving

Yesterday the Portland Police Bureau moved 99 officers and sergeants from several specialty units to the precincts. This move was designed to meet budget constraints and reduce overtime costs, but it will negatively impact our City and the community members we are sworn to protect.

It is time for a serious wake-up call. We need to invest in communities, invest in policing, invest in safe streets, and start being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to public safety. Shuffling officers around will not decrease call response times nor curb the horrific gun violence we see every day. The truth is that this reorganization is simply filling vacancies that were being filled with overtime.

However, there are some solutions that could help the immediate and urgent need. Our leaders should invest in the applicants who are on the hiring list before they leave for other agencies. And we should implement the Retire/ Rehire program which allows the Chief to bring back well-qualified and trained officers as a stopgap measure while we hire and train new officers to fill the vacancies.

As a police officer for over 23 years, I have attended hundreds of community meetings to discuss livability issues and concerns. The number one issue was always traffic speed and safety. People asked, “What can we do about all the cars driving too fast down my street? I’m afraid someone will die if we don’t do something about speed in my neighborhood.” This is a legitimate concern and the Bureau’s ability to address this is further compromised by moving officers from the Traffic Division to the precincts.

Our K-9 officers play an integral role in apprehending violent suspects with minimal use of force—a dog bark can quickly and efficiently de-escalate a volatile situation. But reallocating this resource is removing a valuable de-escalation tool.

Even the Behavioral Health Unit has been downsized. At a time when our community is crying out for more mental health resources within the Portland Police Bureau, we now have fewer resources in this critical unit that works alongside mental health professionals.

These specialty units were designed to address specific needs that our community identified as significant problems and now they are being stripped down. It’s a shell game and we all know it. There aren’t enough resources to go around and we’re being forced to choose between equally dire issues.

We need to ensure that our city has enough police officers to provide the core community policing services that our city needs and deserves—crime prevention, investigations, traffic control, and basic public safety. And we also need alternative social services that can help bring restorative justice to our communities through education and job placement opportunities, housing, drug and alcohol treatment, and resources for those experiencing houselessness. Making communities pick one or the other is not the solution. Our leaders must make the investment in the community and provide both for public safety and offer the social service resources Portland needs, wants, and deserves.

Brian Hunzeker, President
Portland Police Association