Portland city officials said this week they are alarmed by a recent spate of homicides that left five people dead in 24 hours.
The deaths occurred between July 9–10 and included a 61-year-old woman stabbed by her daughter, two teenagers shot in separate incidents in East Portland, a 67-year-old man who police say was assaulted in Northeast Portland and later died and 28-year-old Black man shot in Southwest Portland.
On July 8, a 32-year-old man was also stabbed and killed in the Buckman neighborhood.
Some, but not all suspects in the cases have been arrested, police said.
Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell called the homicides in such a short period of time an extraordinary loss of life and difficult to comprehend.
“Five victims of homicide in 24 hours is staggering,” he said during a news conference this week. “These incidents crossed numerous neighborhoods across our city and directly impacted many.”
So far this year, Lovell said there have been 16 homicides in Portland. Last year, at this time there were 17.
In the last five years, only two other months have had six homicides, according to PPB crime statistics.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Lovell also expressed concerns about a rise in gun violence.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented escalation of gun violence in our city,” Wheeler said at the same news conference. “In just the first 12 days of July alone, we’ve witnessed an increase in gun violence by over 380%, as compared to the same time last year.”
While the increase is notable, the year-over-year comparison may not indicate a 300% increase in violence. In 2019, PPB changed the way it tracks shootings, making it difficult to draw conclusions from such a small set of data.
From July 1-13, 2019, Lovell said there were 11 shootings, excluding suicides, in Portland. So far this month, he said there have been 42 shootings. Shootings have been on the rise in the city since late last year.
Overall, PPB data show there have been more shootings this year compared to last.
Lovell said PPB is still looking for trends and causes for a possible increase.
“It is normal to want to identify what is causing this increase, but the simple truth is we do not know” he said, speaking about the recent shootings. “These incidents range from people who were known to each other, to domestic or familial violence, and other factors.”
Last month, the Portland City Council voted to disband the bureau's Gun Violence Reduction Team, which had long been criticized by Portland's Black community. The change was one of several meant to address calls for police reform at nightly protests in the city. It was also a change long sought by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
In 2018, PPB changed the name of its gang enforcement to the gun violence reduction team after scathing audits and media reports. The city audit found the gang team disproportionately pulled over Black people. The unit also didn't have data to show how often officers pulled over actual gang members. Hardesty criticized the name change as a simple rebranding.
During this week’s news conference, city leaders said the Gun Violence Reduction Team, which was disbanded two weeks ago, wouldn’t have had any effect on recent homicides. Wheeler noted the city, like the country, is undergoing unprecedented stresses amid an economy in freefall, a global pandemic and a reckoning of systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
“I don’t believe that the city council’s vote on GVRT had any impact on these particular situations,” Wheeler said. “The officers are still out there, they’ll still respond to calls.”