Portland City Council approved a $6 million proposal Wednesday to try to slow a sharp increase in gun violence that has the city on pace to shatter the previous one-year homicide record set over three decades ago.
The last-minute agreement is a compromise between the mayor and the council’s three newest commissioners, who pushed the mayor to find an answer to the skyrocketing number of shootings that didn’t include earmarking new funds for the police bureau.
The three commissioners got much of what they asked for. The proposal puts no new money toward the police bureau. Instead, $1.4 million will be funneled to the city’s Parks & Recreation bureau to hire park rangers, who would patrol the city’s parks and neighborhoods through the end of the year. Another $4.1 million would go to grants for nonprofits working with the city’s Office of Violence Prevention to reduce gun violence.
But the mayor also got a major win.
Jim Middaugh, the communications director for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, said the mayor got the council’s approval to re-assign 12 officers and two sergeants to form a gun violence intervention team. This aspect is not included in the ordinance, but, according to the mayor’s office, was part of the agreement.
“We got approval from the council to reestablish a patrol-oriented gun violence deterrence function within the police bureau,” Middaugh said. “The key change to previous work is, it would also include civilian analysts to provide transparent data.”
The proposal would also reassign six detectives and one sergeant to work with the Multnomah County district attorney on gun-related investigations, according to the ordinance.
All five council members enthusiastically endorsed the proposal. The most notable endorsement came from Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, one of the biggest critics of the Gun Violence Reduction Team who led the charge last summer to disband that unit.
“What we’re doing today is giving these young people a sense of hope,” Hardesty said. “What we’re doing today is starting a pathway to making sure we’re investing dollars where they will make the most good.”
The grants would go to nonprofits working to prevent the rise in gun violence. Many already receive funding from the city and would expand their capacity, including Latino Network, NAYA and Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, all of which provide street outreach to at-risk youth.
The new teams for gun violence prevention and investigation are the latest in a string of proposals suggested by police and city leadership since the council voted last summer to disband the Gun Violence Reduction Team, a unit many accused of disproportionately targeting people of color.
Disbanding the team was deemed a major success by many people calling for racial justice amid last summer’s protests and a cut for which Commissioner Hardesty had long been fighting.
In March, the mayor had asked for $2 million in one-time funds to finance the same functions as the disbanded gun-crimes team, re-establishing a uniformed patrol team to engage in violence prevention and response.
The mayor’s not getting the $2 million he asked for. But Middaugh said the mayor will be able to put the other major components of the proposal in place with council approval. According to the ordinance, the community safety director, a position recently filled by a former director of the bureau of emergency management, Mike Myers, would receive $200,000 to hire two crime analysts. It would also establish a community oversight committee to monitor the new gun violence team.
This year, there have been 284 shootings compared to just over 100 at the same time last year. Portland isn’t alone in facing mounting violence. The spike comes as cities nationwide are grappling with a dramatic increase in gun violence, making it difficult to pinpoint any one policy in the city as a root cause.
“We’re all losing too much,” said Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales, who said he had lost two of his brothers to gun violence.
Portland City Council invited a series of community members to testify in support of the proposal ahead of Wednesday’s vote, including Morales, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, and members from the Interfaith Peace and Action Collaborative‚ the group that put together the initial plan championed by the mayor to reinstate the gun violence patrol unit.
But members of the public largely did not have the chance to testify. The package came together at the last minute and was added to the agenda using a process that doesn’t allow for public testimony in front of council, a notable decision given the uproar that previous policing and gun violence proposals have caused. A few members of the public had signed up regardless, and the mayor allowed them to speak.
“This is not a bad proposal,” said Portland Copwatch’s Dan Handelman, who closely follows police items that appear on the council agenda. “I haven’t had time to talk to my group about it. … I had overnight to look at it.”
City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who spearheaded the package, said she felt the quick turnaround was warranted given “years worth of clear and firm direction from our community to take immediate action on these issues.”
“This is coming to council in a manner that matches its urgency,” she said. “We wish this was not the case.”
In a news release announcing the agreement, Rubio’s office, who oversees the parks bureau, said rangers would act as “unarmed, goodwill ambassadors” who would be “eyes on the ground” in the city’s parks and surrounding neighborhoods.
The proposal would charge these rangers with developing a restorative justice program to be run through the Code Hearings Office instead of Multnomah County courts. It would also carve out a new role for Myers, the new community safety director, tapping him to develop the city’s overall gun violence response plan.
The proposal first became public last week when Rubio along with Commissioners Dan Ryan and Mingus Mapps countered the mayor’s proposal to put $2 million toward creating a new police bureau team dedicated to gun violence with their own plan. In a memo, the commissioners outlined their own ideas to quell the rise in gun violence, including expanding park ranger patrols and reshuffling officers to create more bandwidth for investigations.
They called increasing funding for police “the wrong place to start.”