Officers’ reluctance continues to delay new Portland police team to help curb deadly firearms

As Portland’s homicide count continues to shoot up with a mass shooting in downtown Saturday that killed a teenager and injured at least six others, the police bureau’s efforts to set up a new uniformed team of officers to tackle gun violence remain a challenge.

Police have had little success in finding two sergeants and 12 officers to sign up for duty – a focal point in the city’s efforts to try to stop gun violence before it happens or at least slow its pace.

So far, about three officers have volunteered for the positions. Police chiefs have been working to recruit a sergeant to join the team.

The Bureau has released a job description, but many officers have shown no interest because they are unsure of what is expected of them, said Assistant Chief of Police Jami Resch, who oversees the branch of investigation.

The uniformed team, called the Focused Intervention Team, is designed to proactively combat gun violence with a patrol presence on the streets of Portland. The plan has been to get the team to cover seven days a week to get weapons off the street instructed by police intelligence, identify people involved in the recent shootings and “interrupt the cycle of violence,” according to a bureau memo. In April, the agency estimated that it would take 30 to 45 days to set up.

A key component is having a 12-member group monitoring team to monitor team actions. The city has moved forward and elected 12 people to serve as members of the group.

Resch said officers have “many questions” about the role of the community group in their work.

“What they want to know is what is being overseen and what are the expectations of them,” Resch said, speaking recently with the community group. “What’s actually going to be their job.”

Officers are very aware that many residents and city council members do not want police to recreate the Gun Violence Reduction Team or its predecessor, the Gang Enforcement Team, Resch said.

The city disbanded the Gun Violence Reduction Team last year as part of a $ 15 million cut in the police budget, citing concerns about its disproportionate stop for colored people.

Officers are seeking guidance from the community on what it wants officers to do or not do, Resch said. “Which I think is a reasonable question to ask. … They will not fail. So they are very careful. ”

The job description, prepared with the help of the Police Bureau’s equity manager, states that the team’s officers will primarily work in uniform and use “socially informed and data-driven tactics” to intervene directly with those identified as being at the highest risk of gun violence as victim or perpetrator.

People at greatest risk are identified through investigative lines from the Police Bureau’s Enhanced Community Safety Team, which extensively investigates shootings as well as a still-hired crime analyst, community organizations and relationships developed with confidential informants, the description says.

They respond to shootings, initiate initial investigations and contact individuals associated with shootings to determine those involved, it says. Along with enforcement, they refer people to support services.

“I think once we have a better idea of ​​what this group is, it would be very helpful to bring your information, your mission and your wishes from this team to the agency so that the officers know what to expect. of them, ”Resch told the community monitoring group.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Police Chief Chuck Lovell, during a news conference Saturday afternoon after the shooting in downtown and a separate fatal shooting in northeast Portland, made brief references to the focused intervention team as part of the city’s overall strategy, but did not note that it should not formed or begin to function.

“What we need is a plan,” said Wheeler, who works as police chief. The gun violence has escalated since last summer.

“This really exploded the last year or so. It is a pandemic and it must be resolved with sufficient resources, ”Wheeler said. “It’s pretty clear where I’m sitting and we do not have sufficient resources deployed on our streets in a proactive way.”

Over the past 38 hours, the chief said there had been 11 shootings, resulting in 13 people injured or killed.

The two killings on Saturday pushed Portland’s death toll to 52 this year. Last year, Portland recorded a total of 55 homicides – and that was the most the city had seen in 26 years. More than three-quarters of the killings this year were due to shootings.

According to city figures, the murder victims in the first six months of the year were disproportionately black with 47%. Less than 10% of the city’s residents identify as black. White people made up 34% of the victims, Latinos 13% and Pacific residents 5%. The race of the others is not known.

A presentation at the Social Security meeting on Thursday listed its mission as providing “insight, input and oversight” to “ensure effective, fair and equitable” police efforts to reduce local gun violence.

The community group must have its own analyst who helps members evaluate police bureau data on gun violence and the meetings of the new uniformed team in the community. Mike Myer, the city’s new director of community safety, was last week completing the job description for the analyst position.

Sgt. Kevin Allen said after this last fierce pace that the seemingly reluctant officer interest in the team does not give the full picture.

“There are a lot of conversations that are not reflected in the sign-ups,” said Allen, a spokesman for the agency.

“We recognize the urgency,” he said, “but it is important that we build this unit carefully in order to maintain the support of our community.”

An 18-year-old woman was killed around noon. 2 Saturday near food trucks on Southwest Third Avenue between Harvey Milk and Washington streets.

The assassination in the center followed a shooting in late June in Old Town’s entertainment district near Northwest Fourth Avenue and Couch Street that injured two men and sent patrons floating out of a nearby bar.

The police chief said the agency had previously assigned officers a special entertainment district detail, but it was halted during the pandemic and had not been reintroduced.

He said the agency will have to pull officers from other assignments to put renewed focus on the center and the entertainment area.

The Bureau has lost about 125 officers in the past year, Lovell said. “You can only go that long with that trend before you reach a turning point,” he added.

“It’s just a matter of now where do these resources come from,” the boss said. “It’s a heavy request for Central Precinct. They have a lot of things going on. But protecting people in the city is our biggest concern. So we figure out a way to be present there. But it is important for people to know that these resources come from somewhere else. ”

– Maxine Bernstein

Email [email protected]; 503-221-8212

Follow on Twitter @maxoregonian

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