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Portland Cops Aren’t Volunteering To Work For Revived Gun Violence Unit

Portland, OR – The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) is struggling to find officers willing to work in the newly-revived specialized gun violence reduction unit the City Council abruptly disbanded last year.

The Portland City Council caved to the demands of social justice warriors last year who alleged the PPB’s Gun Violence Reduction Team unfairly targeted people of color, the National Review reported.

But homicide rates have soared since then, leading city officials to bring back the specialized unit under a new title.

The PPB Focused Initiative Team’s goal is to reduce violent crime while simultaneously coordinating with an 11-member citizen advisory committee to “identify and dismantle institutional and systemic racism in the bureau’s responses to gun violence,” the National Review reported.

The citizen-led committee will oversee the 14-member unit, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said in March, when he unveiled the revamped plan.

But only four officers have agreed to join the Focused Initiative Team so far, the Wall Street Journal reported.

PPB Assistant Chief of Investigations Jami Resch said part of the reason why officers aren’t wanting to become involved in the politically-charged unit because of the ambiguous relationship with the unit’s oversight committee.

Portland Police Union President Daryl Turner said it isn’t difficult to pinpoint why officers aren’t jumping at the chance to be a part of the latest version of the gun violence reduction team.

“They’re demonizing and vilifying you, and then they want to put you in a unit where you’re under an even bigger microscope,” Turner told the Wall Street Journal.

Portland’s highest number of homicides occurred in 1987, when 70 people were murdered, according to the paper.

A total of 53 homicides have already taken place this year.

Wheeler and PPB Chief Chuck Lovell held a press conference late last month to address the surge of gun violence taking place throughout the city, Willamette Week reported at the time.

They said the city’s police force is outmatched and underprepared, especially as droves of officers continue to leave the defunded department.

“We’ve had many years of growth as a city and a shrinking police department,” Chief Lovell pointed out. “You can only go so far in that direction before you reach a tipping point.”

“What we need is a plan,” Wheeler suggested, according to Willamette Week. “The plan has to acknowledge that the public safety needs of this city are changing and they are changing rapidly. It’s clear to me that we do not have the adequate resources deployed on our streets in a proactive way.”

He said the city also needs to hear from police about what they need to do their jobs better, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

“What’s needed is clarity in terms of what resources the Portland Police Bureau needs in the years ahead to address the changing safety needs in our community,” Wheeler declared. “That includes clearly identifying the tools, the training and the appropriate number of personnel.”

The Portland City Council decided in April that they’d fight the surging murder rate by nearly doubling the number of unarmed, unsworn Parks and Recreation rangers working in the city.

The nearly $6 million plan was unanimously passed by the Portland City Council with little community input, Willamette Week reported.

The council refused to funnel any additional funds into the PPB.

In their effort to combat gun violence, the city commissioners opted to dump $1.4 million into Portland Parks and Recreation (PPR) so they could hire more unarmed, unsworn park rangers to serve as “goodwill ambassadors,” according to Willamette Week.

“They are eyes on the ground, ensuring that our parks remain welcoming public spaces—and calling in police to intervene should violent situations arise,” the commissioners said of the PPR rangers.

PPR currently employs 24 full-time rangers year-round, with another 11 positions during the summer, KPTV reported.

PPR will be able to hire another 24 rangers under the commissioners’ new plan.

According to the PPR’s spokesperson, rangers are trained in de-escalation techniques, anti-bias, first aid, and crisis interaction, KPTV reported.

They are authorized to enforce city code related to park rule violations.

They also often help connect homeless people living in the parks to social service programs, KPTV reported.

A PPR manager claimed the agency’s workers are skilled and capable of helping to curb Portland’s problems with gun violence.

Portland for Positive Impact founder Randy Philbrick said boosting the number of PPR rangers won’t do much to deter crime, but that it will put the unarmed rangers at risk.

“I know the level of respect they won’t get as we’ve already seen this week with a couple park rangers getting a Taser pulled on them,” Philbrick told KPTV. “We’re setting these guys up for failure.”

Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) Local 483 organizer Ted Bryan shared similar concerns, and noted that “there has been an increased sense of hostility toward city employees” over the past year, Willamette Week reported.

“We are worried by the number of assaults, attempted assaults, threats and harassment toward parks staff, including rangers,” Bryan said.

He said that the city council needs to at least provide PPR rangers with body armor in order to “protect them from projectiles and stab threats.”

“Our presence in uniform may act as a deterrent for behavior that is inappropriate in parks—however, for some members of the public, the presence of uniformed city employees inspires a hostile reaction,” Bryan told the commissioners, according to Willamette Week.

“We are not authorized, trained or equipped to intervene in violent situations, and certainly not in situations involving gun violence,” he added. “We ask you to take this into account when considering the kinds of situations to which rangers may be safely and appropriately deployed.”

Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty recently said the main purpose for the increased number of PPR rangers is just to make people feel like they are safer, not to have the rangers actually act as police, Willamette Week reported.

“The mayor asked me: ‘What are park rangers going to do if somebody starts shooting?’” Hardesty told the news outlet. “I said, ‘They’re going to call 911.’ No way do we want park rangers intervening. If somebody pulls out their gun, they’d better call 911.”

In addition to beefing up the city’s unsworn parks and recreation force, the Portland city commissioners voted to dole out a staggering $4.1 million to various community outreach programs, KPTV reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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