Portland mayor proposes signing bonus, other incentives to attract police recruits – OregonLive.com
Portland’s mayor wants to raise the starting salary for police officers, offer new hires a $7,500 to $10,000 signing bonus and find ways to retain veteran officers as the Police Bureau struggles to fill 40 vacancies while facing a slew of impending retirements.
Mayor Charlie Hales said he plans to present a package to the City Council later this month to use part of the city’s $1.1 million contingency fund for the incentives.
“We’ve got this fairly entrenched problem. We’re behind in recruitment,” Hales told The Oregonian/OregonLive. “If we’re going to recruit, we’re going to have to be more competitive than we are today.”
But Hales doesn’t yet have an estimate of how much the incentives will cost.
The Police Bureau has had a hard time recruiting new officers after cutting more than 50 positions in 2013 and halting hiring. To reduce mounting overtime, the bureau instead began in November pulling officers from specialty divisions – such as drugs and vice and the gang enforcement team — to fill patrol shifts on a rotation.
The temporary measure is expected to continue while the bureau works to hire more officers.
Hale’s ideas include:
— Raising entry-level officer salaries from $49,000 to $60,000. Currently, the salaries increase to $60,000 after six months on the job. (Seattle police department’s starting pay is about $69,000)
— Offering a signing bonus to recruits of between $7,500 and $10,000. (Eugene police offer $7,500 signing bonus)
— Rewarding officers who successfully recruit new officers by paying them “a couple of thousand dollars,” the mayor suggests.
— Rehiring retired officers for six months to a year or more. Since most of the soon-to-be retired officers receive disability and pension benefits under Portland’s unique public safety fund, they would receive a salary for returning to the job without accruing additional pension benefits, Hales said. But this idea has officers questioning how they’d be covered in case of an injury on the job.
Any of these changes would be subject to mandatory bargaining with the police union.
Portland Police Bureau
Authorized strength: 950 sworn officers
Of the total, number of patrol officers: 355
Eligible to retire now: 72
Another group eligible to retire in April: 20 to 25 officers.
Officer Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, said he’s been “having conversations” with the mayor and chief, but no formal negotiations have begun.
Turner said the city must work not only to attract new officers, but find ways to retain veteran ones. He declined to cite ways the city could do that.
The city now offers an additional 2 percent longevity pay to officers who have worked at least 15 years on the job, another 2 percent at 20 years and then another 2 percent at 25 years. There’s been some talk of adding another 2 percent increase in pay for officers after 30 years with the force.
“We have many more people going out the door than we have coming in the door,” Turner said.
About 72 people are eligible to retire from the bureau now, he said. Another 20 to 25 will be eligible to retire by the end of April.
“Our main concern is the retention of people we have now,” Turner said. The union last month sent an electronic survey to its members, which showed more than 70 percent rated morale in the bureau poor and few would recommend Portland police jobs to others.
Police agencies across the country are finding fewer people are looking to join them than in years past. City officials and criminal justice experts believe its partly due to a recovering economy making police jobs more competitive, and a backlash from high-profile controversial police shootings across the United States. Other police agencies also are having to come up with creative ways to attract applicants.
Many applicants in Portland are washing out during background checks for being untruthful, said Deanna Wesson-Mitchell, the mayor’s public safety liaison and a former Portland officer and recruiter.
Wannabe police officers who seek to avoid taking polygraph tests – part of the application process for recruits in Washington and California – apply to agencies in Oregon, where polygraph tests aren’t permitted in the hiring process by state law, Wesson-Mitchell said.
“Unfortunately, the law enforcement career can attract an element or type of person that really shouldn’t be police officers, so they get knocked out through the process,” Wesson-Mitchell said. The untruthfulness involves applicants’ backgrounds and other issues, she said.
Historically, about five to seven of every 100 applicants make it through the full hiring process in Portland, Wesson-Mitchell said.
The city wants to streamline hiring, which the police union and mayor agree takes too long. It now can take six months to a year to complete the process. As applicants await background checks in Portland, they sometimes take offers at other agencies.
Last spring, the bureau changed its written test after more than 20 years. It now uses a private company called the National Testing Network, allowing applicants to sit for the tests in multiple cities. The scores are then sent to Portland police.
By offering the written test and oral interviews more often, the bureau hopes to attract more applicants. The city budgeted $598,524 last fall to hire 11 more civilian background investigators to help speed up the process, but they aren’t working yet. There are nine non-sworn investigators now.
The mayor said the Police Bureau is trying all modes of marketing – its latest, for example, drew on the “Star Wars” mania, with recruitment posters picturing officers standing beside Chewbaca and other characters from the movie, with the words “Join the Force” and in small writing “Now Hiring: We’re looking for a few good Wookies.”
“We’ll try anything,” Hales said.
Veteran Portland officers know the bureau has had a history of halting hiring, only to struggle to revive it when given the green light to recruit again. Hales, who became police commissioner three years ago, is learning that now.
“It was probably not fully understood by me how long it would take to gear back up again,” he said.
— Maxine Bernstein