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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Council Report Asks Police Bureau to Consider Cutting 23 Command Positions

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 4:09 PM

A potentially controversial report examining notably low supervisor/employee ratios across the city of Portland's workforce—part of an ongoing effort to further scrub the city's budget for extra cash—offers some potentially bitter medicine for the Portland Police Bureau, the Mercury has learned.

According to the report (pdf), obtained this afternoon via a public records request, the city could save as much as $2.5 million, largely by eliminating 23 police bureau command positions and reclassifying six others. The report, drafted by Commissioners Nick Fish and Steve Novick, requires the bureau to come up with a "position-specific response," and projected savings, by April 1.

The findings in the report suggest much of that culling would be among the bureau's lieutenants and captains, which it says are a hotbed of "redundancy." At issue is what's called the city's "span of control," its ratio of supervisors to workers. The report focused on supervisors with three or fewer employees—finding several in the police bureau. It also makes clear, however, that the bureau wasn't much interested in having a discussion about how to increase its "span of control," choosing instead to defend the status quo.

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Overall savings could be lower—down to just $500,000—under a best-case scenario that swaps 22 command positions for non-supervisory police officer jobs. Sergeant Pete Simpson, the bureau's lead spokesman, said the bureau will work to provide an answer in time for April 1 but that he wasn't sure yet about the timeline and who was heading it up.

The span of control study follows a note approved by the council during last year's budget deliberations. It's unclear where the rest of the council might land. And that's no small calculation, because this isn't just about dollars and positions. There's an element of politics—even if city sources would argue the report and its political implications are separate.

This finding lands near the end of a push by Mayor Charlie Hales to decertify the union that represents police commanders, captains, and lieutenants, the Portland Police Commanding Officers Association (PPCOA). Hales' argument is that supervisors shouldn't be allowed to form a bargaining unit.

Taking away nearly 30 positions, even if those officers are reassigned under the report's best-case scenario, would significantly hamstring the PPCOA, even if the state Employment Relations Board sticks up for it. At any given time, with vacancies and other issues, that union has maybe 50 members at best.

One of the PPCOA's executive officers, Central Precinct Commander Bob Day, met with Hales for an hour last week on union business. That meeting came while Fish and Novick's offices were putting the finishing touches on this report. Messages left for Day and the union's president, Training Captain Bryan Parman, have not been returned. Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says he hasn't yet had a chance to talk to his boss about the report and its implications.

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