While an official vote will wait another week, city commissioners today blessed the police bureau's plan for a long-sought training facility—heaping praise on the chief for delivering a project that had been something of a white whale for police chiefs and police commissioners going back decades.
The bureau will take over a 14-year-old property on NE Airport Way, spending $6.5 million to purchase the site and then just shy of $8 million more to fix it up and add, among other facilities, a shooting range, driving track and a tactical scenario village. Cash will come from a bond sale. The council last year guaranteed $1.7 million a year from the city's strapped general fund to pay those bonds back over 10 years.
"Acquiring a training facility has been one of my top priorities as chief of police," Reese said at the meeting.
This should be a big deal for accountability advocates, too. Providing this facility ostensibly will make it easier and cheaper to train cops in a time of continually evolving policy and legal standards for when and how cops are allowed to use force. And questions about training have loomed large over recent police shootings—like the 2010 death of Aaron Campbell, where training is expected to play a big part of an arbitrator's decision on whether to reinstate Officer Ron Frashour.
That point was noted even by a group of business-friendly speakers: "We are perhaps the most demanding community in the country when it comes to our police officers. We place tremendous expectations on our officers."
Of note, the ordinances that pave the way for this facility also will provide for a community-feedback-based "training advisory council" that Reese, when pressed by Amanda Fritz, said would work with the city's human rights commission.
Even though the project comes at a tricky time for the city's budget, the bureau makes a good financial case for it. Running it will cost $395,000 a year. But the bureau says that expense will be offset in part by excising much of the $300,000-plus in rent it's paying for its current array of training locations, spread out all across the region. It's also looking to charge other law enforcement agencies to use the space and will let other city bureaus use it for free.
Right now, the bureau has limited hours at a gun range in Sherwood that Reese says isn't suited for real-world scenario training, just for marksmanship. "Can we shoot straight or not," he said. "Not necessarily can we make good decisions." The bureau used to use an old, flood-prone Army camp for some of that training, but lost its lease this year because of highway construction and is looking to use the shuttered county Wapato jail instead. It doesn't have a regular driving track.
The $14.2 million cost of purchasing and overhauling the new location is about a tenth of what one heavily promoted past proposal—a regional training facility in on 100 acres of farmland in Scappoose—might have cost: $120 million to $150 million.
The bureau also looked at using land at Portland International Raceway and at the St. Johns landfill. But both would have cost close to twice as much as the current site—one of 46 locations that turned up when a real estate broker was finally consulted last year.
Nick Fish pressed an important point. If the bureau earns enough and saves enough that it actually makes more than it would cost to run the new facility, would Reese consider using that surplus to pay down the debt, and free up more money for hiring officers, maintaining parks, and providing social services?
"Yes," the chief says. "That is a financially responsible plan."