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City denies permit for Portland Marathon citing officer shortage

Course map courtesy Portland Marathon

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Portland Marathon, a longstanding tradition for many runners in the Rose City, could be called off this year after the City denied their permit to hold the race.

City officials cited a couple of reasons for not granting the special event permit: a police officer shortage and a lack of communication between organizers and city staff.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation sent a letter June 9 to Portland Marathon race director Les Smith saying they denied the permit.

"All event approvals are subject to the capacity of the city and associated agencies to provide the services required to protect the safety and convenience of the public," the letter reads. "No event may utilize more than 33 police officers/sergeants, and professional flaggers will not be allowed to supplement police officers."

PBOT spokesperson Dylan Rivera says event organizers are given 5 business days to appeal the decision. They may also talk with city council.

Rivera says it should not have gotten to this point, however.

In October of 2016, the Portland Police Bureau sent a letter informing race organizers they could not accept their 2017 event request because it was the same route they used in 2016. That route required 80 police officers, far above the current limitation of 33 officers.

Portland Police Sgt. Pete Simpson says the bureau started adjustments to special event staffing in 2015. Last year, new guidelines were implemented because of staffing limitations.

"The number 33 was a sustainable number that the police bureau could commit to these events while keeping them safe," Simpson said. "During these large events, we still have a large city to run and manage and so we always have to balance resources."

Simpson says overtime costs are not a reason for denying the permit. Organizers reimburse the city for the cost of policing their events.

The 2016 Portland Marathon used 80 officers, which cost $44,485 in overtime.

Simpson says the marathon covered the costs.

"It has nothing to do with the cost," Simpson said. "It has to do with the availability of actual bodies to go do the things that need to be done."

Simpson says there are currently 43 open police officer position, or 43 officers they don't have in uniform.

PBOT says organizers would need to change the route to cut the number of required officers.

City officials say they same request was made for organizers of the Shamrock Run and Bridge Pedal. Route adjustments were made and both events were granted permits.

Race directors failed to respond to repeated requests for comment.

The 26.2-mile course crosses two bridges as it winds its way from the downtown area into North Portland, and is accompanied by a half-marathon (13.1-mile) course.

The race has been touted as one of the top ten road race events in the nation. Now heading into its 46th year, officials expect thousands of runners to register.

Our news partners Willamette Week was first report the story.

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