Portland’s top cops talk public safety with business leaders

Published: Jan. 12, 2023 at 7:07 PM PST
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - It was breakfast with a side of public safety.

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, Sheriff Nicole Morrisey O’Donnell and Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell participated in a panel and took questions about public safety during a breakfast hosted by the Portland Business Alliance.

Their answers were generally optimistic that the public would see progress in increasing safety. But they also said the metro area is far from solving public safety issues.

“We are in a position now where the collaboration I’m seeing across the board between our local, state, and federal public safety partners, our community groups, I think are in a really great place to find the best solutions to address today’s extremely challenging public safety issues,” said Sheriff Morrisey O’Donnell.

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The sheriff said her law enforcement division is almost fully staffed. Chief Lovell also echoed promising staffing numbers and said there are now more than 800 sworn officers in the bureau. Despite that, the chief said hiring will still be an ongoing battle.

“There’s a big hiring push, then a hiring freeze, big hiring push, hiring freeze and that doesn’t work,” Chief Lovell said. “It really needs to be a sustained thing that is supported and is resourced properly. You have to over-hire in anticipation of resignations, retirements, and things of that nature.”

Chief Lovell also said there is a problem at the state level. Wait times for the police academy, a requirement to become a police officer, is up to five months.

“When we do hire someone, we typically have them for five months doing different types of roles in the police bureau until we can get that academy date,” Chief Lovell said.

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Watch the full, one-hour panel here

On the prosecution side of the justice system, Schmidt said returning to meeting in person with other law enforcement officials is helping more than the public realizes.

“It’s not like those conversations didn’t happen over the last two years, but being able to do it, form relationships and get to know each other and have those after-meeting conversations I think is the secret sauce on how this will work to make us a safer community,” Schmidt said.

The district attorney also addressed the problem of people being arrested, then released and then suspected of reoffending. He said he is frustrated that this happening. One of the main problems, according to Schmidt, is the lack of public defenders. A problem that is out of his office’s control.

Public defenders are funded at the state level, not the county level. Without available legal counsel to represent people accused of crimes, Schmidt said there’s not much his office can do to keep people from reoffending.

“You got to think of our criminal justice system like an ecosystem,” Schmidt said. “You got to think of it as all the different parts have to be healthy and functioning if we’re going to get the results that we want. And public defenders are part of that ecosystem, as our police, as our sheriff deputies, and the jails, we’re all part of that ecosystem.”

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See the full panel video above for further details about public safety, including staffing at 911 call centers and the fentanyl crisis.