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PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) – When gang problems hit Oregon’s most populous city 30 years ago, Portland detectives were stunned to find more than a few dozen shell casings after the shooting. Police now record several shootings per week, with 50 to 70 shots fired, and in one case more than 150, as gang attacks and retaliatory fires again form a vicious circle.
The more bullets, the more bloodshed. Oregon’s largest city has had 37 murders this year, six times the number in the same period last year. If nothing changes, Portland will surpass its record of 70 murders set in 1987, when the city was at the epicenter of a gang siege.
The violence has deeply affected Portland, a liberal city that continues to grapple with the role of its police force more than a year after thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters demanded change following the assassination of George Floyd.
The dramatic increase in gang-related shootings, which disproportionately affected people of color, draws attention to the delicate and polarizing theme felt in major cities across the country, where violence is on the rise as people continue to call for the run-down police.
“This applies to all of us,” said Portland pastor Matt Hennessy, a longtime gun violence activist whose 33-year-old stepson was shot dead in a parking lot in May. “I have lived here for 32 years and have always considered this city a safe place. This is not the Portland we know. “
Police estimate that half of the 470 attacks in Portland this year, which have affected more than 140 people, are linked to criminal gangs. Mayor Ted Wheeler warned Last month, gangs tell criminals to shoot someone for 30 days or be shot, and that people are traveling from out of state to participate in the Rose City violence.
“People are scared. They are evil. They are fed up, ”said the Portland Police Sergeant. Ken Duilio.
Widespread gang violence in Portland in the 90s – when it was estimated The fact that there were 2,500 people in the area, united in 600 gangs, has left a crimson stain on the recent history of the city. But now, with the end of the pandemic and the assassination of Floyd, coupled with a reduced police presence, community leaders say the problem has returned.
Although the number of shots fired is comparable to the 90s, police and local residents say the courage of the shooters and the number of shots fired exceeds what they have seen before. Gangs also no longer wait for the typical tit-for-tat cycle in targeting an opponent, but instead immediately shoot again at locations such as vigils, inflicting injuries before seven people at one event.
“You have multiple shooters – it’s kind of a new phenomenon – a few pistols and a lot of shots,” said Duilio, who added more shots, which increases the likelihood of being hit by outsiders, including a recent newspaper delivery man, an Uber driver and a city bus. Driver.
While everyone agrees that Portland has a problem how to solve it, people disagree.
“There are a lot of bullets going in this area, all over the place,” Duilio said. “But the police department is underfunded, understaffed and undersupported.”
The rise in violence comes at a time when the Portland Police Department’s staff are at their limits. lowest in decades – the department lacks more than 100 officers up to the “regular number” established by the city.
The department has experienced rapid turnover over the past nine months, with more than 120 officers leaving the department, many citing low morale and burnout due to late-night protests against racial justice that have ended in confrontation and streams of tear gas. At a time when officers’ priorities shifted towards protest, Portland also experienced its deadliest year in more than a quarter century.
Despite calls for more staff, city leaders slashed $ 27 million from the police budget – $ 11 million in the pandemic’s budget crisis and $ 15 million amid calls for police release – by pledging money to community groups working to end the violence. with the use of firearms.
“The police cannot prevent the shooting,” said Portland activist Royal Harris. “In this part, we as a community need to work together to prevent these things, instead of looking at it as a police approach.”
Officials also disbanded a specialized unit dedicated to curbing gun violence, which has long been criticized for disproportionately targeting people of color – a decision that some residents affected by the use of weapons still interrogation…
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“You took the Firearms Violence Reduction Team. In this city, no one is stopping the movement of these armed, brutal shooters driving around the city in search of their opponents to shoot, who are going to set up a vigil and light the whole crowd, ”Duilio said.
Jo Ann Hardesty, the first black woman to be elected to the city council and push for a divisional cut, believes the team’s disbandment last summer was the right decision.
“The police have a role to play, but their role is simply to solve crimes – their role is not in crime prevention, their role is not to interfere with other public events,” Hardesty said. COINS 6 last month. “The response to gun violence should not be a knee-jerk response.”
But as gun violence continued into 2021, leaders were forced to rethink their assessment. More officers were assigned to shoot, the police department teamed up with the FBI to investigate crimes, and the US attorney in Oregon stepped up efforts to prosecute gun violence cases. But attempts to “compensate” even part of the cuts are controversial.
In addition, the city council voted to create a group of 12 officers and two sergeants to address the issue of gun violence, but without additional funds.
Chief Chuck Lovell said the department is “so sparse right now” that officials may have to recall officers from patrol services, domestic violence investigations, or human trafficking to support the new team.
Duilio said that while funding for organizations and social services is important, it is only part of the solution and should not compete with funding for the police.
“They both have to happen,” Duilio said. “If you can manage to find a 15-year-old and put him on the right track when he isn’t filming every two weeks, that’s great. But to truly suppress this intense level of violence that we are witnessing right now, it will take uniformed police officers to stop those vehicles that travel from point A to point B for shooting. “
Kline is a member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that directs journalists to local newsrooms to cover hidden issues.
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