Mayor Wheeler stays mum about surge of shootings; Chief feels the pain

Here’s what we’ve learned about a requested ‘plan’ to reduce outer East Portland shootings. For unknown reasons, Portland’s elected officials are keeping this ‘shooting reduction plan’ under wraps …

As shootings start ramping up in July, a teenage girl, having just graduated from high school, is shot to death, yards away from her home, in the Lents neighborhood.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Perhaps this Holiday Season has been so “merry and bright” for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and members of the Portland City Council that they haven’t noticed the shooting crimes surge in 2020. It’s pretty obvious to everyone else, however.

The latest count of criminal acts committed with guns across Portland was, at last update, 852 incidents.

In August, officers collect evidence after this daytime shooting, along SE Powell Boulevard, in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood.

Astounding statistics
Statistically, almost half of these shootings have been in outer East Portland. This is up from 187 in 2019 – reaching 423 shootings in 2020, so far – in our part of the city; that’s an astounding 126.2% increase.

While the number of incidents of criminal acts committed with guns are dazzling, and perhaps mind-boggling, statistics mean little compared to the witnessing of gun crimes on one’s own street.

During an online meeting with the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association (PGNA) on December 22nd, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Chief of Police Chuck Lovell said that the PPB had been tasked by Portland’s Commissioner of Police, Mayor Ted Wheeler, to submit a plan to reduce shootings by Christmas.

Following up on December 28 with PPB Public Information Officer Lt. Greg Pashley, East Portland News learned that, “The plan was presented by the deadline”.

Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell begins a neighborhood conversation with session host, Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association Board Member Jody Folkedahl. Zoom screen shot

Starting off his comments during the PGNA meeting, Chief Lovell stated, “The shootings – the number that we’ve seen in the last six months or so – are absolutely unbelievable, compared what we’ve seen normally. I believe on May 4, we were at 3 homicides in Portland; now we’ve just hit 53 homicides – that is unheard of, here in Portland.”

What made the difference, Lovell shared, was having the PPB Gun Violence Reduction Team [GVRT] unit taken away from the Bureau. He explained that the unit worked primarily in the afternoons, and into the evening, conducting “stops” to – as he put it – “do interdiction on people [which the GVRT members] thought might be involved in gun violence, or might be victims of gun violence.”

These are just a few of the guns that GVRT members took – not from “gun owners” – but from felons, who are prohibited from even holding a gun. PPB provided image

The GVRT – at that time, consisting of two sergeants and 12 officers – worked with PPB detectives, and in partnership with the US District Attorney’s Office, Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, and other local law enforcement entities.

“It was fairly successful: [Having] a tool in place to address shootings and be a bit more proactive,” Lovell said. “When that went away on July 1, we lost that ability – the ability to go out and contact people – making interdiction and prevention a lot harder.”

The GVRT staff was blended into the PPB’s Detective Division, among other places, and [its former members] continue to do follow-up work on shooting incidents, the Chief said.

“This is been semi-successful, but not as impactful as was the team we had in place prior,” remarked Lovell.

The high-capacity of this magazine confiscated along with this pistol, taken from a felon by the now-disbanded GVRT, explains how so many shots can be fired – in so little time. PPB provided image

Persons exhibiting criminal behavior, with guns, continue to shoot up neighborhood streets, homes, vehicles – and people. PPB provided image

‘Stops data’ cited to disband the GVRT
Asked by a meeting participant specifically why the Gun Violence Reduction Team was disbanded, Chief Lovell answered succinctly in two words: “Stops data”.

Background: All Oregon Law Enforcement Agencies required to collect specific data, including demographic information, related to officer-initiated traffic and pedestrian stops

“One of the big issues with the GVRT was that the ‘stops data’ showed that African-Americans were being stopped at a higher rate than they are represented in the population.

“That became a big issue,” said Lovell, himself an African-American. “I think the Mayor was dealing with that at the Portland City Council level.”

The PPB spent time and resources creating the GVRT, including working with the California Partnership for Safe Communities “Cease Fire” model, and a great deal of intensive training, Lovell reported. “It took us a couple of years to build that program, and get to where it was; and now it’s gone – leaving us with the largest increase in shootings I’ve seen during my entire career.

“As you look around the country and the call for racial justice, there’s not much appetite for police to be out doing stops of largely young African-American males,” commented Lovell. “That’s something that is frowned upon right now in our city, and in our country.”

In September, a gunman shoots up this street in the Lents neighborhood.

Anti-racism training emphasized at PPB
Asked if “targeted training” regarding “racial disproportionality” could have kept the GVRT program from being dismantled, Lovell responded, “We do a lot of training around equity; we’re training around anti-racism; and, we have an ‘Equity and Inclusion Manager’ at the Bureau.

“I think the team members that were doing this work were really good people,” he continued. “If officers are doing interdiction work, they are going to come in contact with African-American males,” conceded Lovell.

“[Then,] all of a sudden, people tell us, ‘Okay, we don’t want to do this work anymore’, because it’s being looked at as being biased because of the “stops data”’ – it makes it very hard to do interdiction,” he said. “I think we always have to be cognizant of biases [while nonetheless] looking at the nature of the work were doing.

“And we, as African-American males, are also overrepresented on the victim side of shootings, too,” Lovell pointed out.

At this second daytime shooting scene in September, on SE 82nd Avenue of Roses at Powell Boulevard, in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood, an officer examines a spent bullet casing.

Repeated budget cuts hobble bureau
Turning to budget cuts, Lovell commented, “You’ve heard about the ‘De-fund Movement’. When we submitted our budget on July 1, it was with a 5.6% cut because of COVID-19; about $11 million.

“Then on top of that, we lost another $15 million as part of the ‘De-fund Movement’ – [for a total of] $27 million budget reduction.”

Later in the conversation, Lowell said, “We narrowly escaped an additional $18 million cut which the Portland City Council tried to bring forth; but, it did not pass by a three to two vote.

In November, a drive-by shooter strikes a car, and gas pumps at this Lents neighborhood service station.

“I think there is a lot of momentum behind [curbing] gun violence as a public health crisis,” opined Lovell. “But at this point, I think we have to be really mindful of how we work collaboratively with our [city and county] partners, who can provide additional resources or expertise that allow us to have some impact with families – prior to a person becoming a victim of a shooting – or, maybe, going out to do a shooting.”

Asked how the “De-fund Movement” money was being spent, Lovell said candidly, “I’m really not sure what happened to that $15 million they took from our budget.

“I hope that it went to something that’s going to be productive, and to help people on the ‘front end’, so they don’t have contact with the criminal justice system,” Lovell went on. “If will impact these people’s lives positively, and keep them from ever entering the criminal justice system, there is no way I could be upset with that, as a police chief.”

Also in November, officers look into a shooting at this Wilkes Community Group neighborhood apartment complex.

Daytime shootings escalate in December, such as in this shooting in the Russell neighborhood. Read a first-person account of what it was like to be caught in the crossfire: CLICK HERE.

‘Lean’ staffing hinder service
Turning to Portland Police staffing levels in another portion of the conversation, Lovell pointed out that while the City of Portland has “grown exponentially over the last several years”, the Portland Police Bureau continues to operate with reduced staffing.

“I think were as ‘lean’ as we’ve ever been; about 20 years ago, we had about 1,020 officers – there are now authorized 900 officers, and something actually closer to 870 officers working right now.” And it’s still declining.

The Chief said that about 50 officers retired in August, and about 20 more will retire this January – and there are also some officers “just leaving the department” for unspecified reasons. “So, we are trying to shore up our patrol functions,” Lovell said.

This brazen daytime shooting in December leaves a “mile-long crime scene” along SE 136th Avenue in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood – and ends in a gunshot homicide.

Asks for help along SE 136th Avenue
A neighbor asked what, specifically, could be done to curb the shootings that have taken place along SE 136th Avenue – such as the December 15 incident that left a “mile-long crime scene” there.

PPB East Precinct Commander Erica Hurley took the question, responding, “All of that really goes back to what Chief Lovell was talking about – about the Gun Violence Reduction Team that, we no longer have.”

Commander Hurley said that East Precinct doesn’t have the personnel to do interdiction that might prevent shootings along that street – or at any other location in outer East Portland.

“We have stepped up patrols in this area, to have a better presence when we can; but, again, with our staffing levels, it’s incredibly difficult to do,” Hurley remarked.

With their officers running from call to call, being constantly understaffed, they’re trying “to get as much information we as we can [about the shootings] over to the Detective Division, so they can do the follow-up on the other side, and hopefully solve the crimes that are committed.”

In December, Mayor Wheeler asks for a plan
Many questions are being asked, in different ways, in the community, about what the Bureau’s strategy is to reduce shootings. Chief Lovell responded, “People feel like they can go out and do the shootings, in all neighborhoods, at all different times of day, and get away with it – that is problematic for us.

“So, the Mayor has asked us to come up with a new plan, ‘by Christmas’, to try to address this latest spate of shootings that we’ve had – [considering] the amount of shootings, and the brazenness [with which they take place].”

On December 28, East Portland News asked PPB Public Information Officer Lt. Greg Pashley if this “shooting reduction” plan had been completed. “Chief Lovell gave the Mayor’s office a proposed plan to reduce shootings in Portland. The plan was presented by the deadline,” he reported.

Also on December 28th, we respectfully asked Mayor Ted Wheeler to publicly reveal this “shooting reduction” plan to reduce shooting crimes, and the fear of gun-based crime, here in outer East Portland.

So far, there has been no response from Mayor Wheeler’s office. We’re ready to update this article as soon as he responds.

© 2020 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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