The Housing Authority of Portland (HAP) needed some help—so they're buying their own Portland police officers to patrol the New Columbia housing development in North Portland. Fearful the area would not receive the patrolling the development needs, HAP will now be paying for two full-time officers in the development with the police bureau paying for an additional one.
The addition of the third officer signals a new extension of an arrangement first made last July between HAP Executive Director Steve Redmond and North Precinct Commander Jim Ferraris.
"I suggested to Steve that I'd really like a third officer there," says Commander Ferraris. "Because there really wasn't a public safety plan in place when New Columbia was built, and perhaps, with hindsight, there should have been."
HAP says the idea came after a two-week period in April, during which time an ice cream truck was robbed, there was a violent mugging in the development's park, and a so-called "flash mob" formed, requiring police from two precincts to quell the crowd.
"To me, it sounded like some isolated incidents," says John Canda, the mayor's director of youth violence prevention. "They're no different from what we've experienced elsewhere in the city."
Nevertheless, HAP admits it wanted to quell any perception problems with the development before they get out of hand.
"On the perception side, we know that coverage of both the housing market slowing down and the coverage of what happened in April has caused people to question, "Gosh, is it safe to live [in New Columbia]?'" says Shelley Marchesi, HAP's director of policy and public affairs. "There is a lot at stake."
Police officers cost an estimated $78,000 a year in salary and benefits, according to the police bureau, and the agreement between HAP and North Precinct is scheduled for review in six months. What's not clear is whether by paying for its own officers—who are being newly recruited—HAP is entitled to their exclusive use, or whether those officers might be able to patrol elsewhere in North Precinct, should the need arise.
There is a clause in the police union's contract with the city allowing off-duty officers to be paid overtime to patrol private events, but this is the first time a government agency has effectively bought its own full-time cops. Portland's taxpayers are effectively now paying two agencies to provide police services—the police bureau and HAP.
Regardless, it's the responsibility of the mayor's office to oversee the police bureau's budget, and to plan for public safety requirements. However, the mayor's office was "not involved" in the drafting of the contract, according to Maria Rubio, the mayor's public safety policy advisor.