New PPB team to ‘investigate’ East Portland shootings

After an unprecedented number of shootings, injuries, and deaths since June, 2020 – most of them in outer East Portland – see how the Portland Police Bureau hopes to stem the tide of bloodshed from shootings …

Although Portland didn’t quite make it up to 1,000 shooting incidents last year, from Powellhurst-Gilbert to Parkrose, and all of neighborhoods in between, our neighborhoods have, and continue, to feel the pain caused by violent people using guns.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

At last, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) has announced the long-awaited “plan” requested by the Mayor on how to deal with the astonishing increase of shooting incidents that have plagued outer East Portland.

A brief history
Since the PPB Gun Violence Reduction Team (GVRT) was disbanded by Portland’s Police Commissioner – Mayor Ted Wheeler – on June 9, 2020, the number of shooting incidents in outer East Portland nearly tripled in a month – and continued to steadily increase – racking up 892 incidents, with more than half of them in outer East Portland.

During an August 6, 2020, press conference – the month of August recorded 122 shootings alone – Mayor Wheeler hinted that the GVRT might be reinstated “in some form”, and that new plan would be perhaps revealed in the week following his remarks.

On December 22, 2020 PPB Chief of Police Chuck Lovell said during an online Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association meeting that his office had been tasked by Mayor Wheeler’s office to submit a plan to reduce shootings by Christmas – which was written and presented to the Mayor by that date.

At what’s now known at the “mile-long crime scene” along SE 136th Avenue, many PPB units came out to investigate a shooting spree that ended in murder.

Since then, Powellhurst-Gilbert neighbors wrote a letter; and then, independently, representatives of the Hazelwood Neighborhood Association wrote their letter. Numerous residents of the respective areas endorsed those letters, which pleaded for a plan – or least some communication from their elected City of Portland leaders who are charged with providing public safety.

Information revealed on February 19

PPB Public Information Officer Sergeant Kevin Allen serves as online host for the press conference at which the bureau’s Enhanced Community Safety Team unit is revealed. Screen captured image

During an online press conference held on Friday afternoon, February 19, PPB Deputy Chief Chris Davis revealed the City of Portland’s response to the extraordinary number of shooting incidents that has taken place since his bureau’s GVRT was disbanded.

To address the shootings, the PPB has formed what they call the Enhanced Community Safety Team (ECST) – an investigative team which falls under the PPB’s Investigations Branch.

PPB Deputy Chief Chris Davis begins the press conference. Screen captured image

Deputy Chief Davis said the team is composed of three sergeants, twelve officers, and six detectives, all of whom will focus full-time on the investigation of shootings. “The assigned personnel will primarily be from the existing assault detail, so many of those on the team are experienced investigators, and have been doing this work for months or even years,” Davis said.

“This newly reoriented team will also work collaboratively with other public safety partners,” Davis informed, and listed them as:

  • Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office
  • U.S. Attorney’s Office
  • Multnomah County Parole and Probation
  • Portland Office of Violence Prevention
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
  • Investigative units from neighboring law enforcement agencies

 

“We hope to focus on what we think is a really a small group of repeat shooters, who are responsible for an oversized portion of gun fire incidents,” Davis continued. “This is not to say that they are responsible for all them – because gun violence is a more complex issue than that – but we do know, from experience, that there is often a small number of people who are involved in lots and lots of these incidents.”

To investigate only ‘higher-profile’ shootings
Members of the ECST will be an on-call 24/7, working with PPB district patrol officers on shooting incidents – surveying crime scenes and physical evidence, and interviewing victims, suspects, and witnesses, Davis said.

But, don’t expect to see the ECST come out to run-of-the-mill, every-day shooting incidents – such as most of the 144 shootings so far this year – where cars and houses have been perforated with bullet holes, but happened without injury to people.

“This [team] is for higher-profile shooting incidents,” Davis stated.

The new PPB ECST is tasked with investigating shooting crimes, Deputy Chief Chris Davis says. Screen captured image

Not tasked with proactive interaction
When asked to clarify the difference between the work done by the disbanded GVRT team last June and the new one, Davis replied, “The old GVRT model was more of a proactive uniform patrol group that went out into the community and tried to interdict guns – to take guns off the street – and so, [the GVRT] had a lot of interaction with people proactively, as opposed to reactively, like doing an investigation.”

The Deputy Chief continued, “We think this is a step in the right direction to address this really historic increase in gun violence that we’ve seen in the city. Will this fix all the problems? No, it won’t; this is a much bigger problem.

“[The ECST] is an important piece of our overall strategy, which is to work with other community groups and other partners to come up with the right approach to this issue, without creating a whole lot of other problems in the process,” Davis cryptically remarked.

Thanks unspecified ‘community partners’
“Frankly, for any of this to be successful, we continue to need community partnerships,” affirmed Davis. “I want to thank the large number of people out in our community who joined with us in a lot of meetings, and a lot of conversations, and a lot of intense discussions around this problem – to find a way to make this better out there, in our community.” Davis did not name the groups with which “this problem” has been discussed.

The Bureau expects the ECST will cost $150,000 to $160,000 for the rest of this fiscal year (through the end of June).

>> To view the entire press conference, CLICK HERE to see a recording of this Zoom meeting, on YouTube.

After concluding his remarks, PPB Assistant Chief Davis opened the press conference questions from reporters.

Deputy Chief Chris Davis listens to a question being asked by East Portland News. Screen captured image

Questions – and some answers
East Portland News asked, “Neighbors are asking, ‘How this plan specifically addresses the shooting violence in outer East Portland, where about half of all of these shootings are taking place’?”

“Thanks, David, and you’re absolutely right,” Davis responded. “We do know the some neighborhoods in our city that are disproportionately affected by this problem, and a lot of those neighborhoods are in East Portland.

“This will be, again, just an effort to start to make cases [against] some of those folks that we know are involved in lots of different events,” Davis went on. “And then, they won’t be involved in them anymore; so, that’s one way of reducing the problem.

“We hope that the benefit of this effort will be felt most strongly in those neighborhoods that are disproportionately impacted by the problem.”

Neighbor questions inconsistency
Having watched both the December Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association meeting – and the recording of the ECST rollout press conference – an involved Hazelwood neighbor, who asked to remain unidentified, stated that, as an ordinary person concerned about all the shootings, one point of contradiction stood out to them.

“I’m puzzled by the inconsistency between Chief Chick Lovell’s remarks – and those of Assistant Chief Davis – about why the GVRT was disbanded,” the neighbor said.

“Chief Lovell made it clear that the main reason the GVRT was ended was due to what he called ‘Stops Data’ – that is, the racial statics of those who officers stopped and from whom often took guns they were not allowed to possess,” the neighbor posited.

“Yet, the Assistant Chief rambled on, when answering the reporter’s question seemingly blaming only cuts budget to the Bureau’s budget,” the neighbor asserted.

During the press conference, Davis responded, [this is a “close transcription” we don’t have access to a court reporter] “That’s a fair question. I think, you know, at the time GVRT was taken out of the picture, that came along with a lot of other resource reductions; and, just a real period of crisis in the city.

“And, you know, in hindsight, had we been able to maintain that capability I would’ve liked to been able to,” Davis continued. “But we were in such a resource constraint at that time… You know we took a very large cut in our budget. Our challenge was to meet the needs with that budget reduction without laying people off, and without losing some of the really dedicated and really highly qualified public safety professionals that we have.”

Wants to know more about new team
The primary author of the letter from Powellhurst-Gilbert neighbors, Yashica Palshikar, responded to the announcement – again speaking solely for herself. “Overall, I think this will help,” Palshikar told East Portland News.

“There is a lot to unpack and learn about the new team, so that our community members might be involved,” Palshikar said as she considered how the ECST might impact her area. “This includes all of our community members – be it property owners, neighbors, and business people in our diverse neighborhood community – so we can effectively collaborate with the ECST, to reduce the number of killings on our sidewalks and streets, and outside of our homes.”

Mayor Wheeler chimes in
After the press conference had concluded, Mayor Wheeler’s office sent out a press release in which he decried shootings and murders.

About the new PPB team, Wheeler’s release said, “This is one of several law enforcement actions my administration is working on. We’re also working on increased prevention, intervention, education, and support for victims and their families. Gun violence is a public health crisis.

“We are taking a holistic, evidence-based approach with our local, regional, state, and federal partners,” the press release concluded.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™

 

 

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