Amid spike in shootings, Portland unveils new initiative

PORTLAND, Ore.— Plagued by gun violence gripping cities across the country, the mayor of Portland, Oregon, issued a new emergency declaration on Thursday in a bid to reduce gun murders by at least 10% in the two coming years.

The initiative commits $2.4 million to community groups and prevention efforts.

“Emergency declarations can achieve results that the status quo cannot,” Wheeler said during a City Hall briefing. “We won’t stop until the gun violence stops.”

The number of shootings in Oregon’s largest city soared above 670 in the first half of 2022 – ahead of the pace of the same period last year.

Guns have fueled a wave of deadly violence in Portland in a trend that is happening in the United States. National firearm homicide rates jumped 35% between 2019 and 2020, the highest rate in more than 25 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the face of growing violence, many cities are now trying to figure out how to maintain public safety while heeding calls for police reform and “defunding” sparked by the killing of George Floyd, as racial justice activists seek to reallocate police budgets to other social services.

Portland, which has been rocked by near-night Black Lives Matter protests for months in 2020, cut the city’s police budget by $15 million that year. But in November, he reversed course, returning $5.2 million to the police department as homicides soared.

During the briefing, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell announced that 16 new officers were sworn in Thursday in what he described as “the biggest new hires event we’ve had in a long, long time. ”. 300 additional police bureau employees that the city aims to hire over the next three years.

But despite recent recruits and funding increases, Lovell said staffing shortages are hampering his department’s ability to fight crime.

“It’s one of our big priorities to bring staffing levels back to the office,” Lovell said. “We are working as hard as possible to resolve these cases.”

Pointing to a change from the city’s recent cuts to its 2020 police budget, Wheeler said he plans to increase funding for the department. “As long as this crisis exists, there will be funding,” Wheeler said.

The initiative aims to strengthen and centralize cooperation between law enforcement and community groups in an effort to increase awareness among those at risk of being involved in gun violence.

Wheeler’s declaration of emergency came in response to a report released by the Portland Police Bureau and the California Partnership for Safe Communities, a nonprofit that advises cities on reducing gun violence. The report found that last year Portland had a homicide rate of 13.5 per 100,000 people, about double the national rate.

The number of homicides in Portland has surpassed more populous cities like San Francisco and Boston. The Oregon city has recorded twice as many murders as its larger Pacific Northwest neighbor, Seattle.

Portland reported a record 89 homicides last year, a 65% increase from 2020, according to the Portland Police Bureau. The vast majority of these homicides involved a firearm.

The shootings in Portland disproportionately affect communities of color. Blacks make up only 6% of the city’s population, but make up nearly 39% of homicide victims.

Communities across the United States are grappling with the spike in shootings, with many still reeling from a series of killings that targeted a July 4 parade in a suburb of Chicago, black shoppers at a supermarket in Buffalo , New York, and children in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Congress last month passed its most significant gun violence bill in 30 years. Legislation will improve background checks for gun buyers under 21, strengthen laws preventing perpetrators of domestic violence from obtaining firearms and provide billions of dollars in funding for mental health programs and crisis intervention in communities and schools.

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Claire Rush is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow her on Twitter.

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