Shootings have surged in Portland since a decision was made to defund the police

Gun violence is up in Portland, just a few months after the city council cut funding for the police bureau’s Gun Violence Reduction Team. The progressives on the council said the GVRT was racist. But now gun violence is up 82% compared to this time last year. There’s no way to look at these numbers and not conclude that something has gone very wrong in Portland:

Shootings in the city of Portland totaled 110 in September, according to police. That’s a 243% increase over the 32 shootings during the same month in 2019.

Thursday morning, in the Parkrose neighborhood near northeast 111th and Sandy, neighbors reported gunfire and a short time later officers found someone there dead. They are releasing few details.

Wednesday evening, on the last day of September at around 8:45pm, a moving gun battle broke out near Dawson park. It’s across the street from Legacy Emanuel Medical Center and left 58 bullet casings in the street, some from an AK-47 assault rifle, say police.

Kimberly Dixon, who volunteers with the police to help people who have been traumatized by violence, said it’s clear to her when the change occurred. “I think if we go back and take a look at July, which is when we decided to defund the police, we also had the most tremendous uptick in violence,” Dixon said. There were 61 shootings in Portland in June and 103 in July.

Portland cut $15 million from the police budget in mid-June, that was substantially less than the $50 million activists had been demanding.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a longtime activist, has tried for decades to change the Portland Police Bureau from the outside. In 2019 she became the first black woman to serve on Portland’s city council and immediately started working on police reform.

Last year she attempted to defund the Gun Violence Reduction Team, because she believes it is racist, but her proposal was overwhelmingly voted down. This year, that’s part of the budget…

Hardesty said this is just the beginning. She said the new political climate can help her and Mayor Wheeler examine every specialty unit within Portland police, and make changes where needed.

Elmer Yarborough, who also works with the police crisis team, thinks the elimination of the Gun Violence Reduction Team was a huge mistake. “So when you take away the piece that’s suppressing the gun violence, this is what happens,” he said. He added, “So I don’t believe it was racist at all. I believe they were doing their job, they had a job to do and they were arresting bad guys.”

Yarborough and Dixon aren’t alone in suggesting a connection between the surge in violence and the cuts made by the City Council. Last month, Portland’s Police Chief said something similar:

“I’d say they’re more emboldened, maybe, to be out with guns,” Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said at a press conference Wednesday. “They know there’s not someone watching. There’s no real deterrent there. And I think that’s part of the issue that’s causing us to see the spike we have in July.”

“The stops have gotten a lot of attention. But a lot of those stops end in handshakes and conversation, and there’s a real kind of familiarity,” he said. “And people miss it. We heard a lot from people in the community saying, ‘Hey, we need the Gun Violence Reduction Team back. We need those officers that know our community.’”

The police union also released a statement titled “Recognizing when a mistake is a mistake.”

“It is time for our elected officials to keep Portlanders safe and stop the knee-jerk reactions that look progressive when, in fact, they could be costing lives,” the release read. “… The dissolution of the GVRT left a void, the result of which is a rise in shootings; to pretend otherwise is negligent.”

As we saw in Seattle with the CHAZ/CHOP, it often takes a few bodies before elected officials are ready to admit they’ve made a mistake. But Jo Ann Hardesty and Mayor Ted Wheeler clearly aren’t there yet. Here’s the full report from KGW8:

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David Strom 5:00 PM | May 23, 2024