Mayor Wheeler: I'm going to bring back the Gun Violence Reduction Team but it won't be called that

Last year Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty teamed up to cut $7 million from the police budget. One of the specific cuts made was the elimination of the Gun Violence Reduction Team, a group of officers who were focused on getting guns off the street and preventing shootings before they happened.

Since the elimination of the GVRT shootings in Portland are up about 2 1/2 times what they were in the previous year. Just in the first two months of this year, Portland has had 179 shootings. As of Monday of this week, the number of shootings was 278 with and 17 homicides. Over the same time period in 2020 there was just one homicide. Overall, Portland’s 55 homicides in 2020 is the highest number the city has seen in 26 years.

But as recently as January, Mayor Wheeler was still defending this experiment in defunding police. “I believe if (the Gun Violence Reduction Team) were (around) today, we would still see a substantial, if not identical increase, in shootings in Portland,” he said. But a former gang member whose nephew was killed in one of those shootings disagreed. “Without a doubt, I think it is a possibility that my nephew could still be alive if (the Gun Violence Reduction Team) was not dissolved,” Elmer Yarborough told the Associated Press last week.

Maybe that story from the AP got Mayor Wheeler’s attention. Yesterday, he announced he was seeking $2 million for, get this, gun violence reduction programs. [emphasis added]

“Reducing gun violence isn’t inexpensive,” Wheeler said. “But I hope and I believe that by taking action today, we can break the cycle of violence and reduce the need for additional ongoing investments. The success of this work will be measured by lives lost or lives saved.”…

If approved, the city would restore nearly all of the functions – though not the name – of the city’s Gun Violence Reduction Team, a program that was disbanded in 2020 in response to longtime community demands.

“We are not bringing it back,” Wheeler said. “To be clear, the part about GVRT that was objected to by many members of the community was that there wasn’t community oversight. There wasn’t clarity in terms of what the engagement was. There wasn’t the collection and the transparent dissemination of data.”

The new plan would create an independent watchdog to oversee the new program that will bring back many of GVRT’s functions.

Wheeler’s tap dance is pathetic. He’s asking for money that was cut to restore officers to a job that was eliminated because violence is spiking. He’s pretending this isn’t the same thing because it won’t have the same name and it’ll supposedly be more transparent.

Yesterday a group called the Interfaith Peace and Action Collaborative (IPAC) sent the Mayor and City Commissioners a letter saying much the same thing but saying it much nicer. The group said it understood why the city cut funds last year in effort to address “racial justice” but the letter goes on to say cutting police without a plan is a bad idea. “Cuts to the Police Bureau created a vacuum that undermined public safety and the very communities whose voices the Council—and our community—seek to amplify. We are deeply concerned about the dramatic increase in violence on the street.”

In effect, this minority-led group is giving the mayor permission to correct his own mistake. That’s better than doing nothing, I guess. Of course he could have moved to make the GVRT more transparent last summer instead of getting rid of it. But Wheeler and Hardesty wanted to jump on the progressive “defund police” bandwagon at the time and here we are several hundred shootings later with both of them still unwilling to openly admit that was a mistake.