There has been a sharp increase in gang activity in Portland, and it has been adding fuel to gun violence there.
Currently, Portland police officers are reporting several shootings a week in the city. Usually, officers record 50 to 70 shots fired per incident. In one case, over 150 were fired. This comes as gang violence, including retaliatory shootings, forms a vicious cycle once again in Portland.
This year, Portland has seen 37 homicides so far. This figure is six times larger than what was recorded in the same period in 2020. If this doesn’t change, the city will likely go over its record for the number of homicides. The record of 70 homicides happened in 1987 when a gang siege ravaged portland.
Currently, the violence has already deeply affected the way of life in Portland. This liberal city demanded change to its police force after thousands of people under the Black Lives Matter asked for it following George Floyd’s murder. However, because of it, the city doesn’t know where to place the role of their police.
Portland Defunds Police While Gang Violence Rages On
The rise in gang-related shootings places the spotlight on a controversial and sensitive issue: violence surge yet people still call to defund the police.
Local police estimate that gang-related incidents make up half of the city’s 470 shootings this year. Last month, Mayor Ted Wheeler warned that perpetrators of such shootings are receiving instructions from gangs, which directs them to shoot a person within 30 days or be shot. Wheeler added that people are coming from other states to conduct violent things in Portland.
The number of incidents now is comparable to what happened in the ‘90s. Police and residents, however, claim that the number of shots fired now is more than what they’ve witnessed before. Additionally, gangs don’t just target a rival and wait. Now, they immediately shoot at venues, even including a vigil. In this scenario, several shooters wreak havoc instead of one, adding more gunshots and increasing the odds of innocent people suffering injuries.
People agree that Portland has a problem. However, not a lot of people can offer a way to solve it.
Portland Police “Underfunded, Understaffed”
Portland Police Sgt. Ken Duilio said that many bullets are being used all over the city. However, the police department remains “underfunded, understaffed and under-supported.”
This surge of violence in the city comes at a time when the police bureau at Portland is at its lowest. Currently, the department is understaffed. It now has 100 police officers less than what the city determined as “authorized strength.”
In the last nine months, the police bureau had experienced a fast turnover, with 120 people leaving their jobs as officers. Many of them said they felt low morale, while others experienced burnout from the many constant protests.
In addition to the lack of personnel, the city also took away $27 million from the department’s budget. It slashed $11 million due to the budget crisis brought about by the pandemic. Meanwhile, it redirected $15 million to community groups amid calls to defund the police.
They also disbanded a unit that aims to curb gun violence which was accused of disproportionately targeting people of color.
Jo Ann Hardesty, a member of the City Council, had pushed to cut the unit. Despite everything happening now, she maintains that this is the right decision.
City Leaders Forced to Reevaluate Decisions
Although, as the rate of gun violence continues to go upward in 2021, leaders of the city needed to evaluate. Now, more police officers have been assigned to oversee shootings. Also, the police department and the FBI have started working together in investigating crimes. Additionally, the U.S. Attorney for Oregon is increasing the push to prosecute gun violence cases. Although, efforts to “refund” even just parts of the cut remain controversial.
Also, Portland’s City Council decided to create a team, made up of 12 officers and two sergeants, that would address gun violence. However, it issued no additional funds for this team.
In addition, City Council voted to create a team of 12 officers and two sergeants to address gun violence, but with no additional funds.
Chief Chuck Lovell said the department is “so lean right now” that officials will likely have to pull officers from patrol, domestic violence or human trafficking investigations to support the new team.