Young activists explore police department

Portland 101
By JEFF INGLIS  |  September 21, 2011

There are three streets in Portland that police lieutenant Janine Roberts won't walk down alone, learned a group of interested citizens organized by the League of Young Voters on a visit to the Portland Police Department last Wednesday.

The 26-year veteran of the force demurred when asked to name the streets, but did impart a lot of other interesting information in a 90-minute session that was the first site visit in the League's "Portland 101" series.

Designed to familiarize people with how the city functions through visits to various departments, the series is a multi-week introduction to Portland for people who want to get more involved in civic life, whether politically or otherwise. With different tours every week from now through early November, and occasional meetings to encourage participants to use social media to spread their information, Portland 101 is also a sort of boot camp for activists. The Portland Phoenix is participating in the series to spread the information participants gather even more widely, and to encourage anyone who is interested to seek more information from city staff or the League of Young Voters.

Roberts started with a brief overview of the department, which has about 145 active officers (some are on leave for military service or medical reasons; the department maxes out at 156), with another 65 civilian (non-sworn, non-badged) staffers who handle emergency communications and assist with administrative duties. There are three branches — patrol, detective, and command bureaus — the latter two of which typically work weekday business hours. (They do get called in on nights and weekends as needed if something happens that requires their skills.)

The patrol group is split into three teams, working day, evening, and midnight shifts. They cover 11 beats: six on the peninsula side of I-295 and five north and west of the highway.

Officers rotate among the three shifts, and mostly work four 10-hour days each week. Some officers do work five eight-hour days to make sure there's enough coverage at transition times. (Many officers also participate in secondary teams, for handling situations requiring special skills or equipment, including crisis negotiation, tactical response, water emergencies, bombs, and hazardous-materials incidents.) There is also a single animal-control officer.

The department responds to between 75,000 and 80,000 calls each year. "Some months can be busier than others," Roberts said. "February can be pretty slow on the night shift."

Those result in 15,000 to 18,000 reports (plus an additional 4000 accident reports annually), most of which are assigned to detectives for followup with the victim or witnesses or other agencies.

Then the meeting turned to questions on a range of topics, some of which happened during a tour of the building.

DRUGS "We have a lot of drugs in our city," Roberts said, which leads to crime because addicts need money to buy drugs. She didn't specify — and nobody asked — which drugs were most common here.

DOGS The city has three police dogs that can search for people, and three more that can search for bombs. The latter three are funded by the Transportation Security Administration because Portland is home to the jetport, a cruise-ship terminal, and train and bus terminals.

FOOT PATROLS There are foot beats in the Old Port and along Congress Street, Roberts said. In other neighborhoods, officers often try to walk parts of their areas, but that depends on how many other officers are on duty, as well as the volume of calls coming in.

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