It’s been a violent year for Portland, OR, after the city surpassed its all-time record for yearly homicides.
So far, there have been 67 homicides this year – the previous high of 66 was recorded in 1987.
According to an AP report, many of those dying get caught in the crossfire, hit by stray bullets from shootings between gang members.
This was the case for Jacob Eli Knight Vasquez in late September, who was hit by a stray bullet while getting a drink at a local tavern.
Throughout this difficult period, the Portland Police Department (PPD) has had to cope with staffing shortages through novel strategies like installing traffic barriers to prevent drive-by shootings and consolidating resources by limiting minor traffic stops.
Currently, the department is 128 officers short of its authorized strength, having lost 200 officers this year for a variety of reasons.
However, some Portland residents, like Vasquez’s brother-in-law, say the department is severely handicapped.
“Let’s please untie the hands of our law enforcement officers,” brother-in-law Don Osborn said outside where Vasquez was slain. “I believe if the proper tools were in place for our law enforcement officers, this wouldn’t even have happened.”
Daryl Turner, executive director of Portland’s police union, said the department is overwhelmed.
“We are running on fumes. There’s no way we can investigate thoroughly, and correctly, all these shootings,” he said.
Turner called for the city to hire 840 officers over the next five years to keep Portland safe. In addition to staffing, Turner urged the city to reverse budget cuts. For example, city leaders cut police funding by $27 million last year, part of which was due to a budget crisis triggered by the pandemic.
Portland, a city with a population that has grown by over 50% in the past few decades, has been rocked with violence this year, seeing over 1,000 shootings with 314 people injured by bullets. Police say most of the gunfire is due to gang violence and feuds.
While homicides increased by 30% nationwide from 2019-2020 according to FBI data, the increase is more drastic in Portland, with an 83% increase in homicides in 2020. Portland has had more homicides in 2021 than San Francisco and Seattle.
The City Council has approved of the creation of a gun violence response team (after they disbanded the previous one), set to launch in November. Also, more traffic barrels are set to be installed.
City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said the barrels aim to slow activity at gun violence hot spots and make it more difficult to “both commit a crime and get away with it.”
“This is an all-hands-on deck situation where government needs to dig deep, think creatively,” Hardesty said. “From police to community-based organizations to infrastructure design — we all have a role to play in this emergency.”