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Friday, June 21, 2013

After Months of Quiet, Gang Violence has Returned in Force

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Fri, Jun 21, 2013 at 3:14 PM

It's the first full day of summer and, as police have feared, gang activity is rising with the temperature.

According to numbers released today at a meeting of the Gang Violence Task Force, officers have seen 12 gang-related attacks in the last two weeks alone, and 15 for all of June, making a total of 49 on the year. Portland Police Lt. Art Nakamura worries the city could break a standing record of 18 gang attacks in a month.

"We're back to where we were in 2012," Nakamura told the task force this morning., referencing last year's historic violence. "What's shocked us is the amount of people injured this year. It's kind of staggering."

He added: "Hopefully we don't break any records. I'm tired of records."

UPDATE: I've spoken with members of the Gang Enforcement Team who say there have actually been 13 gang-related attacks this month, making the total number 47. Nakamura may have misspoke at the task force meeting.

Original post: The tone of this morning's task force meeting was decidedly more on-edge than the past several, with cops indicating they'll crack down on East Portland hotspots in coming days and asking the collected clergy, social services workers and others to spread the word.

"We're going zero tolerance right now," said Lt. Vince Elmore of the Portland Police Bureau's East Precinct. "You're going to see people on their knees with their hands over their heads, because people are hurting each other."

The violence that's erupted in recent weeks has largely played out in East Portland, where cops say gentrification has increasingly pushed gang activity. A list of recent incidents rattled off at today's meeting included gun battles in broad daylight near 158th and Burnside, drive-by shootings, and a baseball bat beating in Holgate Park. Strikingly, police had no suspects for many of the attacks, a common problem in gang crimes where victims can be reticent to cooperate with police.

"That's ridiculous," said Deputy District Attorney Eric Zimmerman. "I know for a fact that someone knows who some of those unknowns are."

The uptick is unwelcome, but not completely unexpected. Buoyed by months of relative calm, the people working to curb Portland's gang activity had voiced concern in recent weeks altercations would ramp up this summer. Beyond the increase in crime that always seems to accompany summer break, officers have braced for a rash of imprisoned gang members being released in coming months.

But the violence is disappointing, too. At a gang task force meeting on June 7, officials had expressed hope the various suppression and intervention efforts in and around Portland would lead to a sharp drop in gang incidents this summer. With the latest round of reports, that seems unlikely.

"It's pretty scary out there how much they're talking about how afraid they are," said Kate Desmond, community justice manager at the Multnomah County Department of Community Justice, which supervises gang offenders. "I can't understand how busy we are."

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