Police consider reshuffling districts to save money

What does the plan to collapse Portland’s five police
districts down to three mean to neighbors in East Portland?
Read on …

Regardless of where officers are headquartered, Chief Rosie Sizer insists, most officers will still patrol the districts they know.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As the City of Portland struggles to balance its budget by requiring all Bureaus to make cuts of up to 5%, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) hasn’t been spared from the need for cost-cutting.

Portland City Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is in charge of the Police Bureau, as well as Chief Rosie Sizer and Assistant Chief Brian Martinek, have been out pitching a “Precinct Restructuring Proposal” they say would cut $3,609,469 from their budget without taking cops off the street.

Their plan is to return to the pre-1994 three-precinct structure – by eliminating Southeast and North Precincts. All Portland police officers would then be headquartered at Central, East, or North Precinct offices.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman tells neighbors why the redistricting program is important to meeting cost-reduction goals.

Saltzman tells of budget woes
“We need to balance the City’s budget by July 1st,” Saltzman told a group of East Portland neighbors at the East Precinct Citizen’s Advisory in early February. “The important thing is keeping cops on the street.”

Saltzman didn’t mince words when he talked about the City’s budget. “We’re facing tough times. The [Federal] Stimulus Package’s ‘COPS Program’, designed to put more cops on the street nationwide, won’t fund everything. We need to balance the City’s budget by July 1st. We’re looking citywide for cuts of from 2.5% and 5% in every bureau.”

Another real challenge to the public safety public safety system, Saltzman added, is on the county level. “Multnomah County is facing major cuts. They operate our jails, Parole and Probation offices, and fund the District Attorney’s offices. We’re in this together. As Chair of the Public Safely Coordinating Council, I can say that all of the right people are at the table. We’re seeking ways to continue public safety services in a more efficient manner.”

During his presentation Saltzman, the Police Bureau Commissioner, said he’d gone on patrol with officers several times. We asked him what impressed him the most.

“What impresses me most is how respectful officers are when they are dealing with the public,” Saltzman replied. “I’m also amazed at how many people drive around without driver’s licenses!”

This map is the clearest way to illustrate which districts – mostly falling along neighborhood boundary lines – will be moving to an expanded East Precinct.

The great 39th/60th Avenue divide
According to the proposal, there won’t be changes for any of the outer East Portland neighborhoods currently served by East Precinct.

All of the neighborhoods west of 82nd Avenue of Roses, currently in the Northeast and Southeast Precincts, will be headquartered at East Precinct, as will the more westerly neighborhoods of Woodstock, Brentwood-Darlington, and Foster-Powell – all of whose district patrol officers would move their lockers to East Portland’s Gateway district.

There will be a big change for some of the neighborhoods we cover in the Sellwood, Reed, Eastmoreland, Westmoreland, Brooklyn, and Creston-Kenilworth neighborhoods – their cops would headquarter at Central Precinct in downtown Portland.

Sizer says she expects most police officers to stay in their current patrol districts.

Chief expects no reduction in service
Speaking directly with Chief Sizer at a Southeast Portland meeting on February 11, we asked her if it will take officers covering neighborhoods now located farther from their precinct longer to respond to service calls, since they’d be stationed over the bridges at the downtown Justice Center location.

“It’s a common misconception the police officers operate like firefighters,” Sizer responded. “With firefighters, the closer you are to the fire station, the faster the response is more likely to be. Police officers operate very differently.”

But for cops, Sizer said, precincts are chiefly headquarters. “District patrol officers go to their precinct to change clothes and attend roll call. The overwhelming majority of their time is spent in their cars responding to community concerns, calls for service, and crime problems in the districts to which they are assigned.”

A patrol district is the area of the city that usually conforms to the boundaries of one or more neighborhoods.

The police chief said, under the new plan, district officers will likely stay in the same areas they’ve patrolled in the past.

“Officers have a lot of choice about the area in which they work,” Sizer explained. “My expectation is that most officers will want to patrol in their current districts. Our officers had developed partnerships with members of their community. They enjoy the appreciation their community shows for their work. That’s part of how you maintain consistency within a district – a good relationship with citizens and officers.”

Portland Police Bureau Assistant Chief Brian Martinek says they plan to keep an “active police presence” at the closed precincts.

Precinct buildings to be repurposed
According to Assistant Chief Brian Martinek, if the plan now under consideration is adopted, the Bureau’s Traffic and the Tactical Operations Divisions would move into the current Southeast Precinct building on E. Burnside. However, plans are afoot to keep a Neighborhood Contact Office open at that location as well.

“Community members will be able to talk to a police desk clerk, and access forms and information, during the same hours now available,” Martinek said. “We intend to have neighborhood and community meetings – such as the Bureau Advisory Group meetings – as we have in the past, in the same building.”

Should the restructuring plan be accepted, Precinct Commanders plan to visit individual neighborhoods affected by the change to answer any questions.

“If the Bureau chooses to keep me as East Precinct Commander,” assured Michael Crebs, “I promise to visit every neighborhood or group to introduce myself, and answer any questions they may have. The other commanders will do the same.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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