Shootings Spike in Portland After Disbandment of Gun Violence Reduction Team

Updated: 2020-08-03 17:16:08

Shootings spiked in Portland in July after the disbandment of a team that was focused on reducing gun violence.

The city saw 63 shootings through July 26, compared to 28 in July of 2019, according to data obtained by The Oregonian.

Detectives are investigating 22 deaths, 15 of which occurred in July, police officials said last week.

“That’s very concerning. I mean, to know that that many people have been killed in such a short period of time,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said at a recent virtual press conference.

Since the Gun Violence Reduction Team was disbanded on July 1, Lovell has repeatedly linked it with the struggle to police the city.

The loss “forced us into a position where we have to really look at what resources we can bring to bear, absent that structure that we had with the Gun Violence Reduction Team,” he said.

The 34-member team was disbanded on orders from Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat who oversees the bureau. The City Council, which includes Wheeler, shifted the $5.7 million that typically funded the team to street response and the city budget.

Wheeler’s move was one of many outlined in an action plan that he said would increase police accountability and lead to investment in black and brown communities.

The plan says dissolving the team will be part of a fundamental re-shaping of the police approach to reducing gun violence.

In a press conference on July 13 about the rise in homicides, Wheeler said the city had seen “an unprecedented escalation of gun violence.”

In the first 12 days of the month, officials witnessed an over 380 percent spike in such violence, compared to the same time period in 2019.

Epoch Times Photo
Portland police officers pursue a crowd of about 200 after forcing the group to disperse from a law enforcement precinct in Portland, Ore., late Aug. 1, 2020. (Nathan Howard/Getty Images)
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Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler poses for a photo in Portland, Ore. on Aug. 5, 2019. (Craig Mitchelldyer/AP Photo)

“This is the city we live. Portlanders, our neighbors, are being hurt by this violence. They’re being killed. The violence and the loss of life are unacceptable,” he said.

Efforts to solve the crimes by police were happening alongside the Office of Violence Prevention working with community stakeholders, including victims and their families, to try to prevent violence, the mayor and police commissioner said.

Calling it “a time of great challenge,” Wheeler said he was confident the public safety threat could be addressed.

“We’ve had to re-resource our folks because of the loss of the Gun Violence Prevention Team,” Police Chief Lovell said at the same briefing.

In a podcast the next day, Lovell said the decision to disband the team alarmed him.

“The loss of the gun violence reduction team, in particular, has a diminishing effect on how we’re able to investigate shootings, which is some of the most important crimes that we investigate,” he said in a podcast released by the police.

The work the team did was being handled by patrol while detectives were doing follow-up calls and investigation.

“It remains to be seen what those numbers are going to trend to, but I’m fearful that that will have an negative impact on communities of color, especially,” he said.

The police chief emphasized at the time he wasn’t sure what was causing the spike in violence.

Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a Democrat who oversees the city’s fire department, said the police bureau still has enough manpower to deal with crime.

“I don’t think it’s a staffing issue, and no matter how often they say they’re overworked and underpaid, the reality is that Portland police have for a long time decided what they will investigate and what they won’t,” Hardesty told KATU.

A 2018 city audit (pdf) motivated the commissioner to help push to disband the team.

Auditors found officers on the gun violence reduction team stopped more black people than white people.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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