PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland is on pace to see its deadliest year in recorded history but Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty says she’s optimistic about the “potential to make Portland a great city again.”
Portland has seen a record 909 shootings so far in 2021, resulting in 288 injuries and 47 deaths, the Portland Police Bureau said. To date, there have been 63 homicides in the city.
Many community members have expressed their concerns that the Portland City Council has been silent on the issue of gun violence and not doing enough to curb it. On Tuesday, Hardesty spoke with KOIN 6 News in a one-on-one interview.
“I feel the fear that our community is feeling. You cannot walk the streets anywhere in Portland and not have this sense of fear right now,” she said.
Hardesty has been outspoken about her belief that the role of the police should be investigative instead of preventative. Last week, Mayor Ted Wheeler talked about the progress being made on the PPB’s new community oversight group known as the Focused Intervention Team.
“Let me say that the devil is in the details on whether or not this new emergent team will have any impact on gun violence,” Hardesty said.
The commissioner has major concerns about the team and said there are questions she would want the bureau to answer weekly, including how many guns they seized, the demographic breakdown of the individuals involved and how many cases they send to the district attorney for prosecution. She added that she wants experts to explore how all of the city bureaus can be tapped to reduce violence.
“Does that mean tree canopy in some areas? Does it mean putting something on a vacant lot so it’s welcoming? Does it mean having streets where it’s normal for community members to gather in certain places? None of this is the short-term solution that I know the community is desperate for. But all of it leads us to addressing the issues as they are today and taking a systemic and data-driven approach,” said Hardesty.
When asked whether she thinks there are any short-term solutions and whether city leaders have acted with urgency, Hardesty expressed frustration over how long it takes to allocate resources.
“It shocks me how long it takes to hire employees, to get checks out the door. It makes no sense to me. I guess in a government of 5,000 employees, it’s probably as quick as we can make it happen — but it’s frustrating,” she said.
As for short-term solutions, Hardesty said gun buy-back programs and education on proper gun storage could be helpful. She also thinks expanding Portland Street Response could help alleviate some of the burden on police.
Other city leaders have told KOIN 6 they think Portland needs to increase staffing within the PPB to address the uptick in crime, but Hardesty said she’s still worried about what she refers to as a dysfunctional culture within the bureau.
“I want Portland Police Bureau to be a place where people want to be employed. It is not that today,” she said. “My fear is if we were able to recruit good officers today, the only way they’d get off probation would be to absorb the culture that exists today. Do we need more police? I know we need a different kind of police,” she said.
Hardesty also disagrees with the bureau’s response to the violent clashes on Aug. 22. In a press conference a week prior to the demonstrations, PPB Chief Chuck Lovell said they would not position officers between the opposing groups. Hardesty said she was “fundamentally crushed by the lack of leadership” and would have handled the situation differently.
“We must not allow white supremacists into our city,” she said. “Had I been here, I would have recommended that we put all the bridges up, that we inspect cars one at a time and that any cars that had their license plates covered — any cars with visible weapons — would not have been allowed in city proper. To me, that would have been leadership.”