The Portland Police Bureau announced on Sept. 8 that it would rescind its gang affiliation list. Effective Oct. 15, the bureau will purge around 300 names from the database, bringing an end to a controversial program that lasted more than 20 years.
Police officials came to the decision after sustained concerns were raised in the community about the list. Capt. Mike Krantz, who led the Portland police Gang Enforcement Team from 2013-16, said in a "Think Out Loud" interview that while the list provided benefits, the cost in community trust persuaded authorities to eliminate the policy.
“We only have the legitimacy to do our job as what the community gives us,” he said. “So if we can build community trust over this, that benefit is greater than the cost.”
Opponents have argued that the gang affiliation list disproportionately impacted racial minorities and impacted people who often had no criminal charges or were not gang-affiliated. In 2016, Carli Brosseau of the Oregonian/OregonLive reported that 81 percent of the 359 people listed were from a racial or ethnic minority background, including 64 percent who were black.
Krantz disputed that the bureau designated people without gang affiliation and pointed out that potential landlords and employers had no access to database information.
But Krantz also noted that the police had other investigative tools to pursue violent crimes.
“Why not do the right thing in the eyes of the community?" Krantz said. "We are the police of the community, so that’s a benefit for trust for us.”
Dontae Blake, a former gang member and program director for Unify Portland’s Living Free gang outreach program, said that the list adversely impacted people throughout the community.
“We all believed that it followed us, and it hampered us in our lives,” he said. “Whether it did or didn’t, it was a belief that it did.
“If this goes away, at least they’re off a list they shouldn’t have been on in the first place,” he said. “Because the list, to me, it’s worse ... it’s very, very severe punishment.”
Krantz stressed that the end of individual gang designations did not mark an end to gang enforcement.
“Just because we have gotten rid of this one tool of gang designation on the individual, doesn’t mean that gang crime specific isn’t going to occur,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re not gonna look at violence as gang violence. We’re not pretending it doesn’t exist.”
Blake lauded the program’s end, saying that the policy change shifted his view of the bureau. He called its abandonment “a selfless act” on the part of the police force.
“They’re seeing us as humans," Blake said. "We’re not so dehumanized, that they’re recognizing that we come from somewhere. We got to pass. Something led us to be gang members, and there’s hope.”