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Bend PD struggles to recruit more officers

Problem echoes nationwide police shortage

Bend Police struggles with staffing

BEND, Ore. - The nation is facing a shortage of police officers, and Central Oregon's largest city is not immune to the problem.

With high risks, a challenging schedule, less-than-desirable pay and a bad reputation, recruiting people has never been more difficult. 

For the last few years, the Bend Police Department has struggled to stay fully staffed, and according to Lt. Clint Burleigh, it's not the only one.

"I think if you went to every police department in the state of Oregon, they're going to tell you the same thing, finding qualified applicants for the culture and community they serve, having to match that up, is not just bringing people in who are qualified, it's bringing people in who will be qualified to police the community they will be serving," he said Tuesday.

The shortage is happening for many reasons, including the public's shifting opinion about police.

"In the last four or five years, you've seen a different perception on policing," Burleigh said. "The departments that are successful are taking steps to improve those relationships with their communities and understand this is partnership."

According to a Gallup Poll, confidence in police was at a 22-year low in 2015.

And proof of being understaffed is in the schedule, Burleigh explained.,

"From 7 p.m. to 11:15 p.m., ideally we would have 18 police officers;" he said. "Right now, numbers I've looked at, (there are) about 12 officers, six lower than what we'd like to see and four lower than we like to see with vacations and time off." 

Fewer officers on duty means more time is spent on high-priority crimes and less on lower-priority ones.

"If they're actively being assaulted by somebody, that is a very-high priority call, compared to someone who has a barking dog," Burleigh said. The latter may be an "important, quality of life situation, but if that officer is not able to respond to the barking dog call because they're going to the assault in progress, that may increase wait times for our lower-priority calls."

To keep people on staff and encourage more to join, the Bend Police Department offers several mental health outlets, including a twice-weekly yoga class.

Bonuses are also offered to already sworn officers who come from other communities.

Another issue faced by the department is affordable and available housing in Bend.

There used to be a rule that officers had to live within 20 minutes of the station, but that's changed because of population growth and housing costs.


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