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KGWPORTLAND — After more than 20 years of providing an educational and sports camps for youth, the Portland Police Bureau announced Monday that the special program has been canceled.

Budget reductions and a decrease in the number of officers available for public safety have put a strain on the bureau’s ability to offer the one-week camp in June, the department announced. As many as 120 officers and civilian volunteers usually work as coaches and instructors at the camp, which means that other officers are paid overtime to maintain minimum staffing levels on the streets.

But this year, the bureau neither has enough officers available, nor the budget to support the required overtime, the department stated in a news release

“I would like to personally thank all the officers, volunteers, and community partners who have supported the camp in its variations since starting it in 1990,” said Chief Lawrence P. O’Dea III. “More than 7,500 youth have benefited from the camp throughout the years, and today, there are several former camp participants who have gone on to become college athletes, police officers, teachers and other outstanding members of the community.”

“We’re facing a pretty critical staffing shortage that on paper looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” said Sgt. Pete Simpson with the Portland Police Bureau.

He said they currently have 45 open positions, but that number could go up to 90 this June when more officers become eligible to retire.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow when you have to cut a summer camp for kids because of staffing,” Simpson said.

“We are short on officers. We have to be thoughtful about how we use them,” he continued.

Mayor Charlie Hales said he’s working on a plan to attract new recruits and keep officers in Portland.

“We’re going to raise the pay for our police officers, our entry pay. Because Portland is not the most attractive place to come to work in the state of Oregon and we should be,” said Hales.

The mayor said he’s also working on offering bonuses and incentives for people joining the police force.

Hales said he expects his plan to kick off this spring, but that all depends on negotiations with the police union.

The union wouldn’t comment on that timeline, but said conversations with the city are moving along in a positive way.

In the meantime, Hales said he hopes to put a version of the camp program back together this summer and hold it at the Montavilla Community Center.

The details are still being ironed out.

Emily Gilliland knows full well how beneficial it is for kids and families to have options in the summer months. She is the CEO of Camp Fire Columbia, a program that offers summer camps for kids in need and she said it’s a shame Portland Police canceled their summer camp for kids.

“It matters. Every opportunity for kids matters. We know we’ve got a lot of kids in the Portland area and they need to have many options for their families,” said Gilliland.

According to Gilliland, things like summer camp are particularly important for kids who don’t typically have as much access to opportunities. She said the achievement gap between kids with resources and kids without, continue to widen during the summer months.

During the next fiscal year, the bureau will try to figure out a way to bring back the camp for the future. Until that time, parents are encouraged to explore other low-cost summer opportunities offered by local organizations including Portland Parks and Recreation, Boys and Girls Clubs and the Free Summer Feeding program throughout the metro-area.

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