Police patrol shifts can be unpredictable. The volume, pace, and intensity of calls to 9-1-1 and the non-emergency number may vary on any given shift. “We have to prioritize the calls coming in. We will respond to life-safety issues first then property crimes in progress. On busy nights, we do our best, but sometimes we can’t get to that suspicious or lower-level call right away,” says Officer Michelle Brown. Where officers are dispatched to a high-priority, high-risk incident, safety is paramount and there are strength in numbers.
“A high-risk call such as a domestic violence incident always requires two people at a minimum. You’re not going to send an officer out there by themselves. It’s not safe, especially when emotions are running high between two people,” says Tigard Police Chief Kathy McAlpine. “If we have three officers on a shift, that leaves one officer isolated to respond to other calls in the city and limits what they can do.” On many shifts, staffing may be at minimum levels of 3-4 officers, which can create coverage issues during a busy time.
One typical example was a weekday night in December where graveyard shift officers got to a running start at 10 p.m. with a stream of high-priority calls. Minutes into the shift, the Tigard Police K9 team assisted Sherwood Police (SP) on a burglary in progress. From there, the four officers and supervisor assigned to the shift responded the following high-priority calls:
- An assault at a video lottery business in Tigard. A 20-year old male, acting erratically, randomly punched a woman and fled the location. Multiple officers searched the area and took him into custody after locating him nearby. The primary officer was unavailable for additional calls for approximately two hours between the apprehension, witness interviews, and transport to Washington County Jail in Hillsboro.
- A high-risk contact with a truck driver. The man reportedly displayed a handgun to a security guard who was confronting him about trespassing at a business complex.
- A car prowl in progress. On the heels of investigating the theft of a Toyota Prius, police were dispatched to an apartment complex in Tigard after residents reported suspicious activity. Tigard Police arrested the suspect and lodged him in the Washington County Jail.
- Three domestic violence incidents. Officers were called to a location for a noise complaint, then later a domestic violence incident and ultimately arrested a 30-year old man. The timing of this incident coincided with another high-risk domestic incident involving a male suspect who allegedly beat up his girlfriend and barricaded her and their infant inside an apartment with him. Officers were able to gain entry and safely remove them. After Tigard K-9 Diesel searched for the suspect, officers apprehended him and took him into custody.
On the barricade call, neighboring law enforcement agencies assisted Tigard officers. Mutual aid agreements with regional law enforcement partners allow Tigard Police to receive assistance on a high-level incident for a limited duration. Chief McAlpine cautions that, although crucial, mutual aid needs to be the exception and not the norm. “You don’t want to rely on mutual aid for basic coverage. You want that for only the high priority, barricaded subjects, or robberies where you need help with containment because the K9 team is searching for the suspect. You don’t want to use them for back up on a typical domestic call because they have to patrol and respond to calls in their own area. If all we’re doing is covering each others’ emergency calls, we’re not getting to the lower tier calls or having time for proactive, visible patrolling.”
Says Chief McAlpine, “Because many community members feel safe in their neighborhood, they may be unaware of the increased level of activity we respond to each year, while maintaining minimum staffing of 3-4 officers on many shifts. On dayshift and a couple hours of swing shift, there are motor officers, detectives, and even Command Staff who can assist patrol officers when necessary. However, swing and graveyard shift must rely on each other on most calls.”
“I am raising awareness to a growing concern. The impact of consistently operating with minimum staffing negatively impacts service levels and increases officer stress levels, burnout, fatigue, and morale, which ultimately impacts employee retention.”