‘Help on the way’: Mayor Wheeler on gangs, guns, safety

Is Portland Over?

Wheeler touts 'specific, actionable programs that will make a difference'

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In the United States, homicides increased 30% from 2019 to 2020. In Portland that number is 83%.

This year there have been more than 1000 shootings across Portland, 332 people hurt, 75 homicides.

In March, as homicides steadily climbed to historic levels, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he supported $2 million going to the police bureau. At that time, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty told KOIN 6 News she strongly opposed that plan.

“It’s importand to me that we not bring in one new officer until we know what we’re building,” Hardesty said on April 1.

Instead, the City Council approved $6 million to combat gun violence. But none of that money went to the PPB. Instead it went to community groups focused on upstream solutions.

Then in August, while community members pleaded with city leaders to clean up the city and address the shootings, 2 city council meetings were canceled because there was not a quorum — that is, too many leaders had scheduled absences and there weren’t enough people to hold a meeting.

“It would be facetious for me to pat myself or anyone else on the back when we’ve had a record number of shootings in the last year.”

— Mayor ted wheeler

But the shootings didn’t stop. Public frustration over a seeming lack of action from City Hall intensified.

Asked if the city did enough to tackle gun violence in the last year, Wheeler said no.

“We’ve moved very quickly and we’ve done a lot in the last year. It would be facetious for me to pat myself or anyone else on the back when we’ve had a record number of shootings in the last year,” he said.

He said he and the other council members hear the frustrations from city residents.

“I want them to know we hear them, and it has taken longer than I hoped,” the mayor told KOIN 6 News . “I had hoped I would have council support last summer, last spring. I didn’t have the support then, but I have the support now. We are going to move forward with redoubled efforts.”

Wheeler wants to add 300 officers in the next 3 years and 25 in the next budget cycle through the retire-rehire program.

Then in a Wednesday press conference, he said the wants to offer $25,000 signing bonuses to the first 50 qualified officers to join PPB. He also pushed for bonuses for existing officers.

Wheeler seems to be right about having more support on the city council now for this. Both Commissioners Dan Ryan and Mingus Mapps said they support adding officers to the Portland police.

Portland City Commissioners Dan Ryan, Mingus Mapps (KOIN, file)

“We have organized crime that’s been on the rise and we have to really get the bottom of it,” Ryan said.

Mapps said he has a whole public safety plan, including adding officers.

“Obviously our police bureau is understaffed and we have to address that as people are literally getting killed every week,” Mapps said.

Commissioner Carmen Rubio said she wants to fill vacancies “in the bureau.”

“There’s no doubt that right now we’re experiencing like, our police are not at capacity. We’ve had record retirements and people leaving the bureau,” Rubio said. “So I am absolutely concerned getting our force, getting back to capacity.”

Now Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who has been critical of the idea of adding staff to the bureau in the past, now said she is “open” to talking about rehiring officers — with conditions.

“I reached out to Chief Lovell to find out what the plan looks like. I’m very interested in seeing a plan. I’m open,” Hardesty told KOIN 6 News last week.

In the Wednesday press conference, Wheeler was asked why he thinks commissioners will vote for funding the police now when they didn’t support his proposals before.

“They’re hearing from the public loudly and clearly that the public wants to feel safer,” Wheeler said. “And for them, that means not only investments in community, education, support for vulnerable people. It means more officers. So when they call 911, someone is actually going to respond.”

“If you go nationally — this is a tough time for democracy. There isn’t a city hall in the nation that isn’t in the same situation on same issue.”

— mayor ted wheeler

Wheeler also said he feels PPB’s Enhanced Community Safety Team, set up earlier this year, has been “successful” in their efforts to investigate shootings.

He’s hopeful FIT — the Focused Intervention Team — will be up and running soon.

“This would be the police going out and convening and preventing gun violence before it happens,” he said.

FIT will answer to a community oversight group made up of faith and community leaders.

As for why the increase in homicides has been so much worse in Portland than in other parts of the area, Wheeler said it’s a “perfect storm” of people feeling economically disaffected, not enough resources going toward mentoring for youth and job training — and gangs.

When asked if the gun violence and disbanding the Gun Violence Reduction Team were connected, Wheeler said that was hard to say.

“I’ll leave that to the academics. The facts are gun violence was spiking before GVRT was disbanded.”

Whatever the cause, though, the mayor thinks their new plans to reduce gun violence will work.

“If you go nationally — this is a tough time for democracy. There isn’t a city hall in the nation that isn’t in the same situation on same issue,” he told KOIN 6 News. “Help is on the way. We are making concrete investments in specific, actionable programs that we know will make a difference in terms of improving the public safety.”

Have a question or comment? Email: isportlandover@koin.com

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