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Portland could create a seven-person shooter response team that would be on call 24/7

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Maxine Bernstein

oregonlive.com

Mayor Ted Wheeler said Friday he supports creating a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week Portland police team to respond to shootings, pursue immediate investigations and help process crime scene evidence.

“I am committed to doing everything I can to provide the necessary resources for this work,” he said.

The mayor’s remarks come more than a month after Police Chief Chuck Lovell proposed such a team in response to an alarming spike in shootings in Portland.

The seven-member team would be led by a sergeant with four officers and two detectives and would be on call to respond around-the-clock to shooting scenes.

Wheeler also said he gave the chief the go-ahead to revive monthly shooting reviews with Gresham police, Multnomah County sheriff’s deputies and state and federal prosecutors. In addition, he said he supports assigning to the team a public safety support specialist to help collect video or other crime scene evidence as well as one crime analyst.

The estimated cost is $153,348 for the rest of this fiscal year through June and $306,695 next fiscal year for a total of $460,043. The money for this year likely would come out of the Police Bureau’s existing budget, but additional funding for next year would have to be approved by City Council.

“My Council colleagues share my sense of urgency in our response,” the mayor said to members of a subcommittee of the Local Public Safety Coordinating Council.

The city recorded 55 homicides in 2020, the highest number in 26 years. Forty-one of those resulted from gun violence, according to the Police Bureau. As of Wednesday, police have recorded 105 shootings and six gun-related killings so far this year.

“As public servants we have to recognize that not only are these numbers unprecedented, but they are unacceptable,” Lovell wrote to the mayor on Dec. 23. “The residents of Portland deserve not to have their homes shot up, be traumatized from shootings, or to have their sons murdered in our streets. Behind every one of these numbers is a human life, and a family and a community touched by that life.”

Lovell urged the city to re-establish weekly shooting review meetings with regional law enforcement officials.

“It is at these meetings that on a weekly basis we were able to learn about and identify those individuals at the very highest risk of being engaged as a victim or a perpetrator in gun violence now,” Lovell wrote to Wheeler. “In 2020 we moved away from full agency participation in these meetings and it has hurt our effectiveness as an organization and our ability to collaborate effectively.”

While the chief had sought further resources, the mayor’s action marks a positive step, police said.

Portland police Deputy Chief Chris Davis said the on-call team will be drawn from the additional officers and two sergeants who were added last year to boost the bureau’s assault detective team to hep with the investigation of shootings. The bureau’s assault detail now consists of one sergeant, an acting sergeant and 11 officers, Davis said.

The added cost results from an on-call premium pay for officers, as well as any overtime that results from their work.

“It’s not a uniformed interdiction thing. This is just on the investigative side,” Davis said. As he spoke by phone about 12:23 p.m, he paused, noting a new text message he received, “Oh, it just looks like another shooting occurred.”

“We really have some urgency here,” Davis said. “I think anything we do right now will make a difference. This is one piece of a larger strategy.”

He said the team will be activated “as soon as we can.”

Wheeler said he wants to wait to learn more about some of other proposals in Lovell’s gun violence reduction plan: having up to a 14-member dedicated uniformed patrol team to act on criminal intelligence and do follow-up shooting investigations and “proactively engage community members at risk of gun violence.”

Lovell proposed the extra uniformed police presence, but said he recognized community concerns about the bureau’s history of disproportionate stops of young men of color. He suggested having greater community oversight of the focused work of the uniformed officer team, with the public release of more frequent reports on its stops, searches, uses of force and citizen complaints.

The mayor isn’t ready to support that move and wants to learn more.

“I understand that increased patrol officers on the street can be part of the overall focused deterrence approach, consistent with established public health principles,” Wheeler told the group Friday morning.

Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who successfully pushed for the dismantling of the bureau’s Gun Violence Reduction Team last summer, said earlier this week that she doesn’t support putting more money into the Police Bureau until there’s further community agreement on how to change policing.

Yet all the city commissioners at a work session earlier this week identified improving community safety as one of their top priorities.

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