In light of a wave of shootings and homicides in Portland, Oregon, federal law enforcement agencies are stepping in to create a gun violence task force.
According to OPB news, the task force would consist of agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), as well as federally deputized investigators from the Portland Police Bureau’s Enhanced Community Safety Team.
The trend to federally deputize members of local law enforcement began during last year’s protests as a way to hold protestors who assault police accountable for the crime of assaulting a federal officer. The measure was initially considered to be a deterrent for violent protestors who could be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for being arrested by a federally deputized officer.
In 2021, the rationale for deputization has changed. This time, it’s to deal with the city’s gun violence.
Portland Police Bureau Deputy Chief Chris Davis assured that the deputized officers will have “limited authority” and explained the reasoning.
“We want to form a collaboration with these two federal investigative entities to help us with the investigative side of dealing with gun crimes,” he said.
OPB reported that there have been 20 homicides this year, with at least 225 non-suicide-related shootings. Compared to last year, there were only 111 shootings at the same time, and three homicides.
Spokesperson for Mayor Ted Wheeler Jim Middaugh said the mayor will brief City Council and answer questions from the commissioner, performing their “due diligence” before implementing the task force.
“It is a public safety crisis and we’ve got to start attacking this aggressively,” Kieran Ramsey, Special Agent in Charge of the Portland FBI field office, told reporters in early March.
Davis said that the task force will bring much-needed resources to the already-hampered department in their effort to curb violence. Significant police budget cuts and a personnel shortage have drastically reduced the cities’ law enforcement efficacy.
Crucially, the FBI and ATF will contribute personnel, money and vehicles to the department, as well as greater access to forensic resources.
“The FBI has tremendous capability for forensic analysis of evidence…and then the ATF … they’re really good at helping with firearms tracing and some of those investigative skills and techniques and tools that help to investigate crimes like this,” Davis said.
The move to federally deputize authorities concerned many who saw it as a way to expand the police’s power. However, Davis says it is different this time.
He said, “We want to be clear with them, and with everybody else, that this does not involve giving our officers authority to do things that they are otherwise prohibited from doing, like immigration enforcement support or crowd management. It’s focused on just the investigation of gun crimes.”
Portland police are communicating with the U.S. Department of Justice to outline the scope of federal deputies’ duties on the task force to ensure that there are boundaries.