Portland police will embark on an "aggressive advanced gang patrol outreach" this weekend, after Portland has experienced seven shootings in the last seven days. At a press conference this morning, Lt. Mike Leloff emphasized that the string of shootings is not, from the police perspective, a gang war. "This is about people who are gang associates, they have guns, things happen," says Leloff, who describes the seven shootings as "isolated incidents." Police investigators say that tension is running high after recent fights between gangs called the Kerby Bloc Crips, Rolling 60s and Unthank Park Hustlers.
While people are nervously discussing the shootings all over the city, Leloff says to put the recently violence in context: in the early 90s, PDX had about 900 violent incidents a year. Now we're down to 100-200. That's still, obviously, 100-200 too many.
Starting this Friday afternoon and running through Sunday, the police plan to deploy their mobile unit — basically a big, high-tech RV full of officers who will respond to "hot spots" based on calls from regularly patrolling police. Leloff was not specific on how patrolling officers will identify potentially violent gang situations, just that they would be looking for "signals and signs." The PD tried this same tactic back in January (under "Operation Cool Down") and also in 2007 and it was very effective for reducing violence short term.
"We used to just be able to put em out in North and Northeast, now we have to be mobile," says Lt. Leloff, who adds that gang violence has shifted in part due to gentrification of that neighborhood.
But looking at the long term, there are about 500 known gang members in Portland and there is not enough community support to get them all on a straight and nonviolent path. Portland relies heavily on one-time funding for gang prevention programs. That, say people who work on the streets to deter gangs, creates only sporadic help for young people.
"We need to find a system that keeps us married to gang problems rather than just staging a brief courtship whenever violence comes along. We have six or seven shootings, we have a press conference and suddenly the money appears," says Rob Richardson, an elder at Emmanuel church and program director for Emmanuel Community Services. The mayor's office put $50,000 into funding 5.5 outreach workers with Robertson's group after gang violence broke out last winter. But the effort, like others Robertson has worked on over the past 20 years, is temporary—it's set to expire in August.
"The issue with communities is not, 'Are you gonna get started?' but 'Are you gonna stay?' If the homicides go down, does that mean Rob goes away?" says Richarson. "It's not about being hard on crime, it's about being smart on crime."
The economy, high incarceration rates for people of color and the high dropout rates are all systemic issues that contribute to gang violence. "We always lead with the nugget of 'We'll help you get a job.' But last I checked, we were leading the nation in unemployment," says Richardson. "When you have less to offer, you certainly tighten your options for success."
A list of the seven shootings is below the cut.
Thursday, July 16
- One man was injured when shots were fired in the 8400 block of Southeast Division Street.
Friday, July 17
One man shot after a 1000-person dance party on MLK and NE Hassalo.
Saturday, July 18
- Shots fired on Northeast Alberta at 42nd.
Sunday, July 19
- A man was shot on N Fessenden.
Monday, July 20
- A man was shot in the foot and a woman was hurt by shattered glass at an apartment complex on the 8700 block of North Columbia.
Tuesday, July 21
- Two teenagers shoot up the SE 82nd Avenue Fred Meyer, after trying to rob a cashier.
- 8:15 p.m., Portland Police Officers responded to Northeast Garfield and Morgan on a call of a fight involving a large group of people. When officers arrived they found an adult male victim who had been shot.
Wednesday, July 22
- No one is injured, but four teens are arrested after shots are fired near Argay Park in NE Portland.
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