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Portland Mayor Does an About-Face on Police Funding as Gun Violence Goes Through the Roof

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The mayor of Portland, Oregon, announced Thursday he would seek $2 million in one-time funding for police and other agencies to try to stem rampant gun violence in the city.

The move by Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler is an about-face after city leaders in June voted to cut nearly $16 million from the police budget, reductions that included the elimination of a gun violence unit.

The cuts came amid anti-police protests and riots following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Oregon’s largest city has seen a spike in violence.

So far this year, there have been 20 homicides, most the result of shootings. During the same period of 2020 — the deadliest year in the city in more than a quarter century — there was one.

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A group of community members and leaders sent a letter to the City Council on Thursday with a list of actions they believe will reduce gun violence, including expanding the ranks of street-level “outreach workers,” increasing gun crime investigations and re-establishing a uniformed patrol team to engage in violence prevention and response.

“We believe very strongly that it is important to intercede at this point, and appeal to the city to work with us and to hear us, as it relates to the need for the tide to be stemmed with the number of shootings on the street,” J.W. Matt Hennessee, chair of Inter-Faith Peace & Action Collaborative, said.

During an hour-long news conference on Thursday, Wheeler, activists and community members said that in order to solve the problem of gun violence, the community must work together.

“There is just too much blood on the streets,” Pastor Ed Williams said.

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“We have got to be determined, we have got to be fed up about [the violence] and to want to do something about it. I see this issue in front of us as an opportunity to come together.”

As of March 8, there have been 278 shootings in the Portland region, 58 people have been injured from shootings, and there have been 17 gun-related homicides, according to the mayor’s office.

At the current pace, shootings and homicides are on track to surpass last year’s totals.

Portland Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis said the rise in violence needs attention from the entire community.

“Certainly the police bureau has a very specific role, but we need your help,” Davis said.

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Among the recommendations in the Inter-Faith Peace & Action Collaborative letter was a request to re-establish a team to respond to shootings, work with people at risk of gun violence and follow up on investigations.

Wheeler said the unit would not be the same as the now-eliminated Gun Violence Reduction Team.

Wheeler said he supports the ideas, beginning with asking City Council to appropriate $2 million in one-time funds to address gun violence.

 

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