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Police Bureau budget cuts could lead to more officers on bikes

Posted by on January 13th, 2010 at 11:42 am

Portland’s Mounted Patrol Unit.
(Photo: Police Bureau)

The Portland Police Police Bureau, like all City bureaus, is facing another year of budget cuts. The PPB must reduce their budget for the coming year by 2% (other, non public safety bureaus have to cut 4%). One idea that has been proposed is to dissolve their Mounted Patrol Unit and transfer the officers to bicycle patrol.

The idea was mentioned last night at the City’s Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting by acting Captain of the Traffic Division, Bryan Parman (who’s filling in for the still injured Eric Hendriks), and we confirmed the news today with the PPB’s Public Information Officer Mary Wheat.

Currently, the PPB’s Mounted Patrol Unit consists of nine full-time employees: six officers, one Sergeant and two stable attendants. The proposal — which came up through a budget advisory committee and is still very preliminary at this point — is to discontinue the horse-mounted patrol and switch the officers to bike patrol.

According to PIO Mary Wheat, the downtown bicycle detail would gain four officers as part of the proposal.

Equestrian officers are not common in the United States and Portland’s Mounted Patrol Unit is made possible in large part through the support of a private foundation that pays for the stables (located on Naito Parkway north of the Broadway Bridge) and other expenses. The PPB only pays the officer’s salaries.

Story continues below

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Cops on tall bikes. Why not?
(Photo: Cleverchimp/Flickr)

Horse-mounted officers are used primarily for crowd-control and to combat “street crime.” According to the PPB’s website, “The mounted officer is an effective method of crime prevention especially in the downtown area due to the high visibility factor and quick response capability in congested areas.”

The same could be said for officers on bicycles. The major difference with bike patrol officers is the height and visibility (which begs the question, why not put officers on tall bikes?).

In December 2007, Police Chief Rosie Sizer awarded several bike patrol officers a special award for their “immeasurable impact on the community”, but unfortunately, the Bureau has not made funding of bike patrol a priority. In January 2007, the former leader of the now-defunct Southeast Precinct Bike Patrol Unit wrote a guest article on this site asking for more funding for bike patrol officers.

This proposal is in its initial stages, and it still must survive the lengthy budget process that will heat up in the coming months. We’ll keep you posted as the process moves forward.

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Comments
  • Jay R. January 13, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    If the city isn’t paying for the horses or stabling, where’s the big win for funding?

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  • Elliot January 13, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Portland’s Mounted Patrol Unit is made possible in large part through the support of a private foundation that pays for the stables (located on Naito Parkway north of the Broadway Bridge) and other expenses.

    Sounds like we need to start a private foundation to house, repair and “stable” the Police Bureau’s bicycles at night.

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  • Matt Picio January 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    I’d love to see the training program for police dismounts from a tallbike – that would be awesome.

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  • Case January 13, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Maybe now those damn horses will stop crapping in the bike lanes.

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  • q`Ztal January 13, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    OH NO!!!
    New loads of squishy road hazards :)

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  • peejay January 13, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I would love to see the custom tandems they deploy to be used for transporting offenders to the station. Severity of charge could be influenced by how well they stoke.

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  • SteveG January 13, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    If the Police Department is looking for ways to cut costs, they might consider selling off (or delaying the purchase of) a few patrol cars — and putting more cops on bikes.

    Police cars are very expensive, and they require (expensive) parking, (increasingly expensive) gas, insurance, etc.

    Getting more cops out of patrol cars and onto bikes would also put more eyes on the street.

    If any of the research on cycling and absenteeism is true, it would probably reduce the department’s absenteeism, too.

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  • wsbob January 13, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    The PPB’s Mounted Patrol is a major, positive public relations asset that the police on bikes in Portland don’t come close to meeting. The horses are beautiful. People mostly seem to love coming up to talk with the officers and with permission, pet the horses.

    The mounted patrol should be kept on. If the department needs to reduce its overall budget, it might give serious consideration to getting rid of some of the expensive to buy, maintain and insure police cars, and put the officers currently riding around in them on bikes.

    The argument that cops on bikes can’t cover as much territory or respond to certain calls as fast as officers in cars can, but with the savings from having a smaller motor vehicle fleet, it might be possible to hire an additional number of officers on bikes to the department.

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  • Jackattak January 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Awesome! More cops on bikes riding on the sidewalks telling citizens on bikes to get off the sidewalks!

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) January 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Jay R.,

    I think the budget savings would happen because they’d go from 9 mounted police unit employees to 4 bike patrol officers. that’s a lot less salary/benefits, etc..

    Jackattak,

    If you’re curious about why cops ride on sidewalks, we happen to have published a guest article on that topic a few years ago:

    Why cops ride on sidewalks

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  • Jay R. January 13, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Jonathan,

    So why not, as others suggested, simply move a few patrol-car officers to bikes? The monetary effect is the same, and no officers are lost in the process.

    This really has nothing to do with the horses at all – it’s simply a RIF (reduction in force) of 3 officers and two attendants (who I’m sure are paid significantly less than officers).

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  • Jackattak January 13, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Jonathan –

    Thanks for the article, I’ll read that verbatim in a few.

    I did understand that bicycles aren’t allowed on the sidewalks only Downtown. That’s where I see cops riding on the sidewalks, telling others not to ride on the sidewalks, and contrary to Officer Pickett’s explanation (and the city code exemption to cops and Clean n’ Safe), I still disagree.

    We are to be led and should lead by example. It’s hypocrisy at its best. Waiting for the MAX like I do every M-F at Pioneer Square, I probably see a cop (or Clean n’ Safe) on a bike, on the sidewalk, telling someone else [I] about to dismount [/I] that they can’t ride on the sidewalk.

    Lead by example, indeed.

    Sorry. Just one of my pet peeves, as I walk everywhere (particularly Downtown), have dogs that are required to have leashes, and bikes on the sidewalks cause me often tremendous issues.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor-in-Chief) January 13, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Jay R. asked:

    Jonathan,

    So why not, as others suggested, simply move a few patrol-car officers to bikes? The monetary effect is the same, and no officers are lost in the process.

    first, I’m not the one to ask that question.. but here are my thoughts.

    First, the Mounted Unit and the Bike Detail have similar missions in that they focus on crowd control, events, downtown street crime, etc… so it’s easier from an operations standpoint to shift from horse to bike.

    Also, i imagine that reducing patrol cars and bolstering bikes would be much more difficult in the arena of public and political support. put another way, the argument for switching officers from horse to bike is much easier to make than switching from cars to bikes.

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  • jv January 13, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I would like to see officers include some rickshaws in the fleet, to transport offenders. They could have a special compartment that is easy to clean and fairly secure…sort of like the hard plastic seats in the back of the Crown Victoria cruisers. (don’t ask me how I know)

    Also, electric bikes could be added to the fleet for additional speed and pedalling range to assist them in responding to calls. I agree that horses are nice for their photogenic old-timey nature, but they really don’t seem very practical in modern policing. And they definitely need to be better about cleaning up after the horses, especially if they are ticketing the homeless for things such as urinating in public…

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  • Ryan G. January 13, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    I think another reason that the horse-mounted police are so effective for crowd control- and one that PPB would most likely never say out loud for fear of bad PR- is that they are intimidating as hell when you’re on foot. Horses are beautiful animals, but they’re also humungous and therefore potentially intimdating. I don’t think it’s any secret that cops sometimes deliberately make themselves intimidating.

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  • wsbob January 13, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Jack, it’s isn’t hypocrisy to have bike cops telling people not to ride their bikes on sidewalks downtown…it’s practicality. Sidewalks downtown are used by many, many, people; much more so than out in the burbs where I live or on Portland’s outlying neighborhoods.

    From a safety standpoint, on downtown sidewalks, there’s just not enough room for pedestrians, cops on call, and anyone from the general public that would like to ride a bike there. Someone’s got to give, and on downtown sidewalks, it makes sense that it be bike traffic.

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  • david....no the other one January 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Horses to bikes=bad idea. Cars to bikes=good idea, and where we all would like our law enforcement officers to go. Cost would seem to be more sustainable and we all know it would increase the health and public interaction of our officers. If need be police can always use the tactical vehicles, that always scares the public.

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  • Jackattak January 13, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    wsbob # 16 –

    I think you misunderstood me.

    I don’t want bikes on the sidewalks Downtown. PERIOD. I completely agree with that being illegal.

    What I don’t like is the exemption that the City Code gives to the cops and Clean n’ Safe (honestly when I get down to it, I really just don’t like Clean n’ Safe on the sidewalks…they’re rude).

    Mostly I think it’s hypocritical for the cops to be on the sidewalk telling bikes to get off of it. If an out-of-towner were to see a cop on a bike on the sidewalk Downtown, what do you think they’re going to think?

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  • jorge January 13, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    There were cops on horses “bike(horse)-salmoning ” in the bikelane on NW front street. Share the effing road already.

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  • Joe Adamski January 13, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Losing the horse patrol would be welcome. Tony the Pony is pretty intimidating when hes barreling down on you, as during a permitted demonstration, where the cops want everyone to get this done. They would hurry the back of the crowd along with horses right on your butt.. if you gotta cut a budget, theres a good place to start.
    Cops on bikes? good and bad… expect more enforcement,but also more awareness of road conditions,etc.

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  • Joe Rowe January 13, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Ignore money for a moment, not all the costs and cost savings are noted here.

    Keep the horses based on what the police representatives say. I’m constantly shocked at how people throw advice out with the care-less intent of a vehicle operator on a cell phone.

    If the topic is how the city wishes to save money, then install some new and real oversight of police. A very few bad cops with no checks and balances are causing some very big checks to be written. I was the victim of cops who openly and illegally targeted cyclists, even on court records. Those cops were never documented, reprimanded or offered me an apology when I won on appeal. Nothing is on their record. They ignored law and continue to be a liability to the majority of good cops and everyone’s pocketbooks and civil rights.

    http://www.portlandcopwatch.org/top25settlements08.html

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  • Joe Metal Cowboy Kurmaskie January 14, 2010 at 10:11 am

    I like the idea of more bike patrols/officers but i agree that cost cutting would be to take some car patrols and convert those to bikes. i’d like to see the bike units get some sort of theme and pr and more visibility. Whenever I’ve tried to articles about them in the past no one returned calls or got back to w me weeks later – never seemed like there was anyone helming the bike unit in the past – maybe things have changed – this was five years ago – I wonder what your experience has been JM. does the PPB have a strong leader for bike patrol units these days?

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  • wsbob January 14, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Jack, I understood that you don’t approve of bike cops riding their bikes on the sidewalks. Responsibilities of their job and the ability of a bike to go where a big patrol car can’t make access to the sidewalk sensible.

    My thought is that cops should only be riding on the sidewalk downtown…where the same is prohibited for everyone else…when it’s necessary in order for cops to be doing their job. Anyone seeing an example of where cops might be abusing that special access should probably consider lodging a complaint.

    Same goes for Clean and Safe riders. They aren’t even cops, but they obviously work with the cops. If you find them to be unduly rude, talk to the Portland Business Association. As I understand it, the PBA hires them to be among other things, a positive public relations presence for downtown livability. If enough people are finding them not to be friendly, maybe someone needs to look into that.

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  • wsbob January 14, 2010 at 11:24 am

    “Responsibilities of their job and the ability of a bike to go where a big patrol car can’t, make access to the sidewalk sensible.”

    Kind of an iffy sentence. Don’t want to confuse the meaning here. I think it makes total sense for cops to be able ride their bikes on the sidewalk, if they’re after someone, if they want to quickly approach someone to talk to them, and so on.

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  • joe adamski January 14, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Remember that cops have large districts to cover, esp with the consolidation of 5 precincts to 3. North/Northeast extends from St Johns to Rockwood. Providing cover for incidents require a car, as much as we would like to move folks out of cars. Possibly it would work to have a few cops on bikes in downtown, lloyd center,etc. For the larger part, I can’t see how the City could do much to promote bike patrols. Cost effectiveness is going to drive ( pun intended) decisions on mode.

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  • Jackattak January 14, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    wsbob # 24 –

    I believe I can certainly agree with that one. Of course if they’re pursuing a purse-snatcher I would expect them to jump up on the sidewalk, and I would happily and hurriedly get the flock out of their way if I saw this happening.

    :)

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  • rev January 14, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    big surprise i agree with Joe Rowe about saving money by removing bad cops. If I wasn’t so frequently traveling around the county I would probably be perusing civil case against the cops who electrocuted me without cause:
    http://bikeportland.org/2009/02/09/phil-sano-taser-trial-live-updates-from-day-one/

    If that can pass muster then we need to talk about the police union making it impossible for bad cops to be punished, while good cops are being despised more and more.

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  • middle of the road guy January 14, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    This of course means that cyclists will likely get more tickets from bike cops.

    I can only imagine what happens when someone trying to flee a bike cop actually gets caught by said cop.

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  • wsbob January 14, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Joe #25, size of the district that cops have to cover certainly seems to be a factor that strongly argue for use of a patrol car rather than a bike. At least for some calls, cars probably would allow cops to respond more quickly than bike travel would.

    Also, a car is probably more practical for carrying powerful weaponry such as ‘ye ol’ beanbag gun’, though the use of one didn’t seem to stop those two cops out in Sandy from getting into a predicament some years back…leaving the car running, drivers side door open, loaded shotgun on the hood of the car, unattended as their soon become victim climbed atop the roof of the car….remember Fouad Kaady. Now I’m really off topic…sorry.

    It may be more cost effective to have cops in cars rather than on bikes, but just as horse patrol officers do in their own unique way, I think that in some situations, police on bikes have something uniquely positive to offer the public that a cop in a police car can’t.

    rev #27, if there’s a ‘next time’ maybe you won’t get tazed: recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in S.F. said…(I’m quoting from a NYtimes/John Schwartz story)… “…the electrically disabling device constituted excessive force when used agaist an unarmend man who did not pose a threat, and it refused to allow a police officer immunity for its use. …”

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  • PoPo January 17, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Here’s another old article that explains a little more about why bike patrols aren’t necessarily a cost savings.

    http://bikeportland.org/2007/01/19/bike-patrol-officer-asks-for-our-support/

    While it makes sense that not paying fuel or insurance (though the city is self-insured) or maintenance on patrol cars would save money, keep in mind that these costs are amortized over many years and miles.

    The big reason why it isn’t necessarily cheaper to make this switch is because patrol cars provide protection and carry tools for officers that make it safer for them to do their jobs.

    Because bicycle-mounted officers do not have this protection or equipment, and are often dealing with more confrontational people as they deal with street-level order maintenance issues, they are generally deployed in pairs so they can help each other immediately if things go south.

    That means you are paying the salaries of two officers at one time, which makes that unit almost twice as expensive as a one-officer, car-driving unit, which is how the vast majority of officers PPB officers are deployed.

    It isn’t the equipment, it’s the wages.

    The thing about the impossibility of bicycle-mounted officers answering 911 calls quickly in geographically large patrol districts is also important. Though indeed in very dense patrol areas bike mounted officers can and do get places quickly–particularly if car traffic is all jammed up!

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  • […] Portland Police Bureau (PPB) could save $585,000 per year if they were to make good on a proposal to dismantle their Mounted Patrol Unit and transfer four officers to downtown bike […]

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  • Justin February 2, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    I believe that keeping the mounted police unit would be a great thing for our city of Portland. Horses are intimidating but thats a great thing for making possible thieves who see the officer on horse change their minds on performing their crime. Bicyle cops is stupid! Horses are badass!Save the steeds!

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