Portland Police Chief addresses low staffing in bureau

Published: May. 3, 2022 at 5:22 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Portland Police said they had a busy weekend responding to nine different crimes, which is stretching their officers thin.

But this has been a problem beyond this weekend, and Adorn, a business on Southeast Division Street, said they’ve seen the consequences of that.

“My heart is breaking. I’ve been here 45 years I don’t ever remember it being like this,” Wendy Westerwelle said.

Westerwelle has been in Portland for decades and has worked at Adorn since it opened eight years ago. In the last several months, she said they’ve been hit hard.

“We’ve been broken into 3 to 4 times. We’ve had enormous damage. We’ve had windows broken, things stolen. We no longer can take cash because someone will come in and steal,” she said.

She said what’s most frustrating about these crimes is Portland Police are slow to respond, if they respond at all.

“Nothing is done. One night somebody broke in at 3 in the morning and my boss was notified and she came running down here, a woman by herself,” Westerwelle said. “She stayed in here with the doors locked, called the police and they said we’ll be right there and at 7 in the morning no one had still shown up. They said we’re just too busy; we’re overwhelmed.”

“It is difficult with call times, especially on the weekends, when we’re ones and twos only, or even during the week when we have something that takes a lot of resources,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said.

In a press conference Tuesday, Lovell said they are operating with limited resources. There are 772 sworn members of all ranks with 329 patrol officers between three precincts.

“Sometimes people are like, they’ll see something happen downtown and say ‘well, why don’t 20 officers just go there?’ You know a lot of times on our shifts for the precincts we might have a dozen officers working that shift to cover that precinct,” Lovell said.

In response to that, they’ve hired more background investigators to get more officers hired in a timely manner. He said they currently have more than 100 applicants assigned to background investigators with about 100 more that will soon go through that process.

Lovell has his sights set on a higher number to be able to meet Portland’s public safety needs.

“I think the ideal number for a city our size is about 1100 sworn. We’re a city that, for many, many years, has been growing exponentially and we’ve been shrinking as, in public safety as a whole, but as a police bureau,” Lovell said. “When I started here 20 years ago, we had five precincts and over 1000 officers, now we have three precincts and 772 officers.”

That goal might be hard to attain though because Lovell said they expect a wave of 90 retirements this year, with the majority to retire in July. He said he expects the bureau to see the lowest number of staff after that.

However, he also said they’ve opened up their retire rehire program to detectives and sergeants now too, which he said has gotten more interest this time around a few already taking advantage of the program.

Westerwelle just hopes they get more support soon to better serve the community.

“If they’re not able to help us because of being short staffed, then we need more police,” she said.