Portland’s city council is expected to approve a $6 million proposal Wednesday to try and slow a sharp increase in gun violence that has the city on pace to shatter the previous one-year homicide record set in 1987 when the city saw 70 homicides.
This year, there have been 284 shootings compared to just over 100 at the same time last year. But Portland isn’t alone in facing mounting violence. The spike comes as cities nationwide are grappling with a dramatic increase in gun violence, making it difficult to pinpoint any one policy in the city as a root cause.
The package came together at the last minute and was added to the agenda using a process that doesn’t allow for public testimony in front of council, a notable decision given the uproar previous policing and gun violence proposals have caused. Council members are scheduled to discuss the ordinance at the end of the Wednesday morning council session.
Commissioner Carmen Rubio said she felt the quick turnaround was warranted given “years worth of clear and firm direction from our community to take immediate action on these issues.”
“This is coming to council in a manner that matches its urgency,” she said. ” We wish this was not the case.”
The agreement would see $1.4 million funneled to the city’s Parks & Recreation bureau to hire park rangers, who would be tapped to patrol the city through the end of the year. The plan would have the rangers expanding their traditional role in the city by creating a “ranger engagement team” to respond to parks the day after a gun violence incident. It would also charge the rangers with developing a restorative justice program to be run through the Code Hearings Office instead of Multnomah County courts.
In a news release announcing the agreement, the office of Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees the parks bureau, said the rangers would act as “unarmed, goodwill ambassadors” who would be “eyes on the ground” in the city’s parks and surrounding neighborhoods.
As part of the agreement, the city would see the police bureau add resources for gun violence investigations and, according to the mayor’s office, reestablish a uniformed violence prevention team – though no new money would be allotted for it.
The proposal would reassign six detectives and one sergeant to work with the Multnomah County District Attorney on gun-related investigations, according to the ordinance.
Jim Middaugh, the communications director for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, said the mayor also got the council’s approval to re-assign 12 officers and 2 sergeants to form a gun violence intervention team. This aspect of the agreement is not included in the ordinance.
“We got approval from the council to reestablish a patrol-oriented gun violence deterrence function within the police bureau,” said Middaugh. “The key change to previous work is it would also include civilian analysts to provide transparent data.”
The new teams are the latest in a string of proposals suggested by police and city leadership since the council voted last summer to disband the Gun Violence Reduction Team, a unit many accused of disproportionately targeting people of color. Disbanding the GVRT was a major success for people calling for racial justice amid last summer’s protests and something for which city commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty had long been fighting.
The mayor had previously asked for $2 million in one-time funds to finance the same functions as the disbanded gun-crimes team, re-establishing a uniformed patrol team to engage in violence prevention and response. The team would restore nearly all of the functions – though not the name – of the city’s Gun Violence Reduction Team. The mayor promised the new body would have increased community oversight and more rigorous data collection.
The mayor’s not getting the $2 million he asked for. But Middaugh said the mayor will be able to put the other major components in place with council approval….