PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As Portland’s homicide rate is at an all time high, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt announced Monday that he hired four new prosecutors to support investigations involving firearms, the DA’s office said.
This addition of county prosecutors follows a $1 million investment from the county in an effort to fight gun violence as the DA’s office says the volume of homicides this year is beyond their capacity.
“The search to fill these positions started the moment Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and I hung up the phone after she told me we would receive added funding. The volume of homicides this year has quickly outweighed the resources our office has to handle resolving them,” Schmidt said.
The DA’s office has called the increasing violence in the area a “public health crisis,” and partnered with community organizations that focus on behavioral health and conflict resolution.
“A lot of things have to happen in a person’s life before they pick up a gun and decide to shoot another person. These cases are difficult and frequently overlap with domestic violence, addiction, and easy access to guns. The fight both upstream and downstream is critical,” said MCDA prosecutor Kate Molina.
Molina pointed out that the addition of new prosecutors, who will start full-time in December, will help with the county’s caseload which has been impacted by the pandemic.
“New prosecutors mean more time can be devoted to individual cases and means more people who can be called upon to help when a life is lost,” Molina said.
Elisabeth Shepard, the DA’s communication’s director, told KOIN 6 News that all cases are reviewed and said that defendants are not just let go due to the DA’s backlog.
“We review every single case that comes through our doors and charge based on facts and evidence. We do not have the authority to release defendants, that is within the authority of the courts that make determinations based on the constitution,” Shepard said.
The new positions at the MCDA’s Office reflect the county’s push to curb gun violence as the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office has hired two deputies who will specialize in family protection orders, court-ordered dispossession of firearms, and emergency investments in housing.
In a statement on Monday, Portland police chief Chuck Lovell explained that the shootings and violence continued this weekend.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to really focus on some of the brazen activity going on right now — and highlight the environment officers are working really hard in, especially given the shortages that we have as well,” Lovell said.
The Portland Police Bureau also faces staffing shortages. PPB’s Central Precinct extends from Linnton to Tigard, and east to southeast Cesar Chavez boulevard and south of I-84 to Milwaukie.
However, during another Saturday rife with shootings, there were only 16 officers covering the area.
County officials say these cases are difficult and frequently overlap with domestic violence, addiction, and easy access to guns. The DA’s office stressed that their new hires means more people who can be called upon to help when a life is lost.
“Our focus is on the victims,” Schmidt said. “The families and loved ones of those we’ve lost over the last three years simply cannot wait for progress any longer. Our office, in partnership with the County, has met this need with urgency. Help is on the way,” Schmidt noted.