Mayor Sam Adams had to be across the street from city hall at 1:30 to launch the city's new electric car plug-in station. So he didn't have a great deal of time to hear Commissioner Dan Saltzman's proposal to shutter the Portland Police Bureau's North and Southeast precincts, when the resolution came before council at, er...1:29.
Saltzman bought the resolution before council this week so that the police bureau can start moving things over before July when the mayor's budget is due to be finalized. It's also about giving "certainty" to the community, he says.
"We're committed to saving money for the city in a way that doesn't affect service," said Police Chief Rosie Sizer. "The police precinct is mainly a shell, but the vast majority of officers' work time is spent in the field. I think there is some chance that this restructuring may improve response times."
"This plan allows us to have more officers on the street, and actually the cuts that are occurring are not direct service providers," she said.
Mayor Adams said he had to skip out to get across the street, but that he supported the idea and found it a creative way to save money for the city. And with that, the mayor was gone...leaving Commissioners Amanda Fritz, Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish to discuss the closure amongst themselves and vote "yes" on it.
Two minutes later a mayoral staffer came in to ask me if I had any interest in the mayor's launch of the recharging station. "It's happening across the street now," the staffer said. I said I thought I should probably stay in council to watch the discussion about closure of the two police precincts...but man...was I torn...
"The fact that nobody has addressed how this is going to affect response times really concerns me," said neighborhood activist April burris from North Tabor. "What kind of public process is that? I'd ask that you would have some public process where you are really open and honest with people."
"I'm deeply concerned," said Mike Nichols, another neighborhood activist. "I don't buy it that we're going to have the same response time with the river and the highway, if we have something happen. I don't think a lot of Portlanders really understand what is about to happen to their precincts."
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz said the Bureau of Emergency Communications plans to hire four extra staff as part of the precinct consolidation to ensure that radio coverage is not affected.
Bike patrols are also threatened under the consolidation. Sizer had some consolation on the issue.
"To the degree that we can staff bike patrols we are committed to staffing those," said Sizer. "The only place where we may have to trim those back is if we were to overspend on overtime."
"I think this sounds like a better way of providing services and is actually something we might want to do anyway," said Commissioner Amanda Fritz, "without the budget crisis hanging over our heads."
"While driven by budget considerations, as Commissioner Fritz has said, I do think that this is a forward thinking efficiency idea," said Saltzman. "I think the adjustments will quickly be made. I think response times will continue to be the same, and if they're not, we'll hear about it."