Portland approves $6M gun violence reduction package

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The City Council unanimously approved a multi-part, nearly $6 million package to reduce gun violence in Portland on Wednesday, April 7. It takes effective immediately.

“Today I have hope, and you should, too,” said Commissioner Dan Ryan.

The package is in response to the surge in shootings and killings that began in the middle of last year. It is intended to create a collaborative response to the increase in violence involving multiple jurisdictions and organizations in the Portland area. It declares gun violence is more of a public health crisis than a law enforcement issue.

Among other things, the package creates a dedicated seven-member team within the Portland Police Bureau to investigate shooting cases using existing personnel with new civilian oversight. It also provides more than $4 million in grants to community-based organizations and allocates $1.4 million to Portland Parks & Recreation to hire 24 more park rangers from May to December.

A broad range of elected officials, community groups and advocacy organizations supported the package. They included Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Gresham City Council President Eddy Morales, Portland Public Schools, Latino Network, NAYA, Unite Oregon and many more. A handful of the public also testified, even though the council had previously said public testimony would not be allowed.

“The recent rise in gun violence is both alarming and devastating. The harm we are witnessing daily in our community to immediate victims, their families and surrounding neighbors requires action,” reads the impact statement accompanying the ordinance approved by the council.

The package was negotiated by the council members over the past three weeks after Mayor Ted Wheeler said he would request $2 million to create a new unit within the police bureau to investigate shootings. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said she opposed such a request. Commissioners Dan Ryan, Carmen Rubio and Mingus Mapps responded with a $5 million proposal that did not include any new funds for the Portland Police Bureau, which Hardesty supported. The ordinance authorizes the unit without additional funding. The ordinance does not specify which community groups will receive the grants, although it prioritizes existing contractors.

The $5.946 million will come from the General Fund Stability Reserve and be distributed to the Office of Violence Prevention, the Office of Management and Finance and the Parks Bureau. Although Hardesty voted for the ordinance, she said the city needs to change its relationship with some of the contractors because community members believe they work for the police.

Shootings increased dramatically after the council voted to disband the police bureau’s Gun Violence Reduction Team during ongoing racial justice protests last year. It had repeatedly been accused of focusing disproportionately on the city’s Black community. Mayor Ted Wheeler opened the hearing by apologizing to community members for the harm caused by the police.

Mapps said the package was just the beginning of the council’s new efforts to reduce gun violence and reform the public safety system. He said other significant changes will be included in the next budget that takes effect on July 1.

From January to May 2020, there were three homicides. According to police, there have already been more than 280 shootings this year that have injured over 90 people. Guns have caused 18 of the 25 homicides since Jan. 1, and the city is on track to record 100 killings this year.

The ordinance can be found here.

KOIN 6 News reporter Lindsay Nadrich contributed to this report.