Portland OR December 5 2018
The city is poised to begin hiring a new group of Portland police employees who will carry pepper spray but no guns and handle certain low-level calls after the city approved money more than a year ago for the new jobs.
The cadre of public safety specialists would be represented by the Portland Police Association as civilian employees intended to support sworn officers, according to a new city agreement.
They would respond to non-emergency calls to help search for missing people, help with non-injury traffic accidents, attend neighborhood or community events and do follow-up on property crimes by phone or in person when there’s no immediate suspect information, under a negotiated agreement with the rank-and-file police union.
Mayor Ted Wheeler, who serves as police commissioner, and the City Council in June 2017 approved money for the program in the 2017-2018 budget. The cost for 12 specialists is $649,459, according to the city.
Little action occurred until this summer when the city began negotiating with the union. Among the issues: qualifications and training for the new class of employees.
The agreement is set to go before City Council on Wednesday. The proposal is expected to pass, although one commissioner is expected to vote against it while another has voiced concerns but supports the initiative.
The specialists’ starting pay would be $49,816 and jump to $58,302 after four years.
Former Police Chief Mike Marshman had hoped to model the program after a similar one in San Diego when he was an officer there for two years before joining Portland police.
When first proposed last year, Marshman referred to the positions as community service officers and said they would bolster the number of officers on the street “at a more effective cost to the public.” Patrol officers would have time to handle their calls and become more engaged with the residents and businesses in their patrol districts, he said.
But it appears the scope of their work was narrowed during negotiations with the union.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz said anything to get the specialist program started is probably worth supporting, but she wants the program to evolve over time to meet earlier promises that they’d serve as community service officers.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly’s chief of staff, Marshall Runkel, said Eudaly is likely to vote no and feels it’s a bait-and-switch to give the specialists so much deskwork.
The new specialist positions were placed in the rank-and-file police union as their roles were “closest to the job duties” of the members of the Portland Police Association, said bureau spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson. The specialists won’t drive patrol cars but other city vehicles.
The job would be open to those 21 or older, with a high school diploma or GED and either two years of work experience, two years of military service or four years of reserve military service.
Those hired must complete 12 months of probation to include extensive class and on-the-job training provided by Portland police. They’ll work four days of 10-hour shifts, mirroring patrol officers, and report to a police sergeant.
They’ll undergo the same background checks and psychological exams as Portland officers but will face a lower-standard physical agility test for hiring. The agility test will mirror one now given to parking code enforcers in the city.
The specialists also will receive use-of-force training on the bureau’s guidelines for the pepper spray they will carry.