If the trend does not subside, Portland, Oregon, will surpass its all-time record for homicides this year as gang violence escalates and the department struggles with staffing shortages and continued political efforts to defund the police.
The Associated Press reported that there have been 37 homicides in the city, more than six times the number at the same time last year. The all-time annual record for homicides is 70 set in 1987.
“People are scared. They are angry. They are fed up,” Portland Police Sgt. Ken Duilio said.
Portland police have recorded multiple shootings a week with an average of 50-70 shots fired. In one case, there were more than 150 shots fired. The majority of the shootings are gang-related.
“You have multiple shooters – that’s kind of a new phenomenon – multiple guns and lots of shots being fired,” said Duilio. He added that more gunshots increase the odds of bystanders being hit, including most recently a newspaper carrier, Uber driver and city bus driver.
“There are a lot of bullets being fired in this area – all over the place. But the police bureau is underfunded, understaffed and under supported,” he said.
Many community members are frustrated with the state of the city. Portland Pastor Matt Hennessee, an anti-gun violence activist whose 33-year-old stepson was shot and killed in a parking lot in May, told The Associated Press, “I have lived here for 32 years and I have always seen this city as a safe place. This is not the Portland that we know.”
Of the 470 shootings this year, police estimate that more than half are gang-related.
Community leaders believe that the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests have contributed to the problem. While the numbers are comparable to the 90’s, the AP noted that the shooters are bolder and fire more bullets than was seen in those times. Gangs are also not waiting for retaliation, but make successive attacks, even targeting vigils.
To compound with the rise in violence, Portland Police Bureau’s staffing is at its lowest in a decade. The department is more than 100 officers short of its “authorized strength” and continues to struggle with rapid turnover rates.
According to Fox News, more than 120 officers have left the department since 2020, citing low morale and burnout following last summer’s anti-law enforcement and racial justice protests.
To make things worse for the department, city leaders have reduced the police budget by $27 million over the last year. $11 million of that reduction was due to the pandemic-caused budget crisis, while $15 million was a response to defund the police and direct money to community groups working to mitigate gun violence.
City officials also disbanded a specialized gun violence task force that was criticized for disproportionately targeting people of color.
“You took away the gun violence reduction team. There is nobody in this city doing traffic stops of these armed, violent shooters traveling the city looking for their rivals to shoot and who are going to vigils and lighting up an entire crowd,” Duilio complained.
In response to the recent violence, the department has assigned more officers to shootings and have teamed up with the FBI in some cases. Efforts to refund the police are still struggling to gain traction in the city council.