With more than 1,000 shootings in Portland, Oregon last year, and homicides at a 26-year high, public officials are under a lot of pressure to both turn things around and to do it in a progressive, Portlandia-approved way. Gang violence is growing “like a wildfire” in the city, in the words of one prosecutor, but the head of the Portland Police Bureau says he’s been working on a plan to combat the growing lawlessness.
While Chief Chuck Lovell hasn’t released many specifics of his plan publicly, TV station KGW got its hands on a recent memo by the chief to Mayor Ted Wheeler that mentions several strategies.
Chief Lovell wants to re-establish a uniformed patrol team, with implicit bias training, to respond to and prevent shootings. He wants to re-establish shooting review meetings that identify those most at risk of being involved in gun violence. Chief Lovell wants to establish an investigative team that would be on-call and available to respond to shootings 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All of this, according to Chief Lovell, would be subject to community oversight.
“I think it’s important to balance the urgency of this crisis but be thoughtful on what we implement, how we implement it, how we communicate it,” Chief Lovell said last Thursday.
Notice that there’s a lot of “re-establishing” in Lovell’s plan. That’s because Portland’s city council and Mayor Wheeler scrapped several programs, including the police department’s Gun Violence Reduction Team, in the immediate aftermath of riots last June. That team was responsible for identifying and arresting the most violent and prolific offenders in the city, but the progressives in charge of Portland felt that the team was unfairly and disproportionately targeting minority residents, and put a halt to the efforts.
At the time, Mayor Wheeler said, “this is our opportunity to reimagine every aspect of policing, This is a time that calls for bold and, at times, as I’ve said, uncomfortable reforms.”
Well, the reforms were bold, and they certainly made a lot of folks uncomfortable; particularly residents in neighborhoods that are now far less safe than they were just a year ago.
In the last 13 months there have been approximately 1,000 shootings in Portland. Dozens of them happened in Randy Philbrick’s neighborhood.
“I worry about my kids’ safety,” he said. “I worry about my safety. I’ve told people it’s gotten to the point where I, a person who doesn’t normally believe I need a gun, have applied for my concealed carry license.”
I guess I should thank the politicians in Portland for getting people like Randy Philbrick to think about their own personal safety and embrace their Second Amendment rights, however reluctantly, but honestly, it’s sad that it’s come to this. In the city’s drive to “reimagine every aspect of policing” officials have forgotten Criminal Justice 101: in order for crime to drop, there must be consequences for criminals.
The return of a uniformed team that can focus specifically on violent offenders will help, but things won’t really change in Portland until city leaders acknowledge that the so-called reforms that they rammed through the city council last summer took the city on a disastrous course that enabled and exacerbated the spike in shootings and homicides. Quietly undoing a few of those changes isn’t enough. There needs to be public accountability for failures of elected officials and concrete steps to ensure that violent criminals will no longer be an afterthought when it comes to public safety strategies.
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