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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

City Council Tosses Half a Million Bucks at Police Overtime Problem

Posted by Amy J. Ruiz on Wed, Jul 16, 2008 at 10:27 AM

This morning, Police Chief Rosie Sizer hit up the city council for $510,776 to cover cop overtime. This is about "making hard choices," Sizer says, as she tries to juggle a short staffed police force with things like cops' vacation requests and "the visits that will occur with the fall election cycle," i.e. providing security for Obama and McCain.

Sizer says she'll do all she can "to live within our means" with this new money, while the bureau also focuses on recruitment to solve the problem in the long term.

More after the cut.

On that vacation issue, Sizer is talking about the "contractually guaranteed" blocks of vacation time, which police officers request in March, and are approved based on seniority--the bureau is honoring those requests, and they aren't a problem. But when people have a "last minute request for vacation time," cop brass has to juggle those requests with people that call in sick, while not tapping the strained overtime budget, which can mean that a last minute request is up in the air until the day the vacation is supposed to begin.

Commissioner Nick Fish is jumping into to ask whether he, as housing commissioner, can help the bureau with recruitment by doing something about housing affordability for officers. "Increasingly it's becoming challenging," for officers to live within the city, Fish points out.

Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association, is here to back up Sizer's pitch--and to ask for more. "This is a solution in the short term to this particular issue," he says. "But this recruiting and staffing and pay is intermixed for me," and Portland police pay is slipping, he says. "One of the things we're concerned about is we don't begin bargaining for at least 18 months, and we think the recruitment thing is going to get worse," as long as Portland police officers are comparatively underpaid. "Portland is just simply not competitive," he says.

Commissioner Randy Leonard, the practically-presumptive future police commissioner, has "a couple of observations" before he votes.

"To be clear, often times we hear criticism that the council has not done enough to allow officers to be hired," he says, when the truth is the council has funded positions that haven't been filed. They need to "figure out what is going on with hiring people and getting them into places that are already funded."

He thinks it's "our internal hiring process that doesn't allow us" to scoop up the best and brightest recruits before other agencies do. "I think it's important to frame the issue correctly as we move forward."

"If this issue [of overtime funding] that we have tackled in the last week is a precursor, I look forward to us" dealing with the recruitment issue "collaboratively," he says.

Mayor Tom Potter, the current police commissioner, says the "problems go back a long way... nationally, police departments are having a very difficult time recruiting police officers." It's not just a pay issue or process issue, but the fact that people are "giving up what I consider to be good jobs... with excellent benefits."

"Times have changed in terms of the careers that people choose," says Potter, a former cop, who adds that he thinks it's a "wonderful career."

With that, the council votes to write a big ol' check to the police bureau.

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