The Portland Police Bureau hopes officers for a new team to address gun violence will be hired by the end of the week and operational by January. The Focused Intervention Team, a dedicated unit of one lieutenant, two sergeants and 12 officers will be tasked with interrupting cycles of retaliatory violence that can cause one shooting to lead to more.

Officers were initially slow to volunteer for a team similar to the Gun Violence Reduction Team, which the City Council disbanded during the racial justice protests of 2020. Interest in the new unit grew once the team’s leadership was in place and they were able to proactively recruit officers. Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said last week the bureau was finishing up its review of 46 applicants and hoped to have the hiring process done by Tuesday.

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“It’s going to be probably the first of the year before we have people actually out deployed,” Lovell said. “That’s because we have to transfer people from their current work assignment.”

That requires juggling shift adjustments and training together as a team.

The Focused Intervention Team joins an increasingly crowded field of initiatives aimed at curbing a surge in shootings and homicides. That includes the police bureau’s team dedicated to investigating gun crimes, a federal task force led by the FBI, federally deputized Portland police officers, and $6 million allocated to non-police interventions.

Officers cross the street at the scene of a police shootout at an apartment building on the 1600 block of North Willis Boulevard in North Portland on Aug. 27, 2021.

Officers cross the street at the scene of a police shootout at an apartment building on the 1600 block of North Willis Boulevard in North Portland on Aug. 27, 2021.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

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Homicides and shooting incidents have so far defied the all-hands effort and continued to mount with 113 shootings in September and 129 in October. As of Nov. 24, there have been 79 homicides this year, a record well past the previous high set in 1987.

The new team is taking on many of the same responsibilities previously shouldered by the Gun Violence Reduction Team. An investigation by the city auditor found the GVRT disproportionately targeted people of color.

To address community concerns, the Focused Intervention Team will work with a community oversight group that has participated in the hiring process and will help develop strategies for intervening in gun violence.

“Our mission is to understand and work with the Portland Police Bureau in coming up with community-informed strategies of dealing with gun violence,” Gina Ronning, one of the members of the community oversight group, said in an interview. “But at the same time, doing it in a responsible and culturally and racially responsive way.”

Ronning, who describes herself as generally very critical of the police, said she has been impressed by the officers who have volunteered so far.

“They are very aware and still learning about how communities of color have been disproportionately impacted,” she said. “The individuals that we’ve been speaking with are in the right mindset to have that learning happen, and to receive open community feedback.”

The oversight group is currently filling more of an advisory role and is hashing out what its oversight functions will be.

Portland joins cities across the country trying to slow an uptick in homicides and shootings that began as far back as 2019 but kicked into high gear during the pandemic. Other types of violent crime have not followed suit and nationally, crime rates continue a steady, decades-long decline.

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Mayor’s gun violence reduction plan takes incremental step toward reality

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s plan to respond to increasing gun violence inched closer to becoming reality Friday with the first meeting of a community oversight group that will work with the police bureau’s new Focused Intervention Team. The meeting comes two months after Wheeler and city council rushed through a package to address an urgent gun violence crisis in the city, circumventing the normal process allowing public testimony.