‘Prevention, better hires’ keys to safer Portland metro

Civic Affairs

'Building Bridges Summit' brought community members, law enforcement together

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With gun violence skyrocketing in the community and racial justice still a concern, how do you make the community safer for everyone?

Members of the community from Portland, Lake Oswego and Hillsboro and law enforcement took part in a virtual “Building Bridges Summit” Thursday night to discuss those very issues.

Panelists at the virtual “Building Bridges Summit” spoke about what public safety means to them. Members of the BIPOC communities spoke on continued concerns about interactions with police and what they’d like to see happen.

“More transparency from law enforcement and to know that we feel safe,” panelist Selma Sheikh said.

They also dug into what could be done to make neighborhoods safer during a time of growing drug abuse and record gun violence.

“I also feel like it’s important to have preventive measures to help youth in the communities so they don’t get involved in being on the street and involved in gangs, which leads to a lot of gun violence,” said Tesahe Tunson, a community ambassador for Word Is Bond.

PPB Deputy Chief Mike Frome said in the past the bureau has not done a good job of learning from the community and added that hiring people who are willing to do that will be key in turning things around.

“That’s what police in general and Portland Police need to focus on,” Frome said at a community meeting Thursday night. “We need to get back out and start listening to our communities. We need to make sure we are hiring the people who are willing to listen and get to know people.”

Frome and other members of law enforcement at the virtual “Building Bridges Summit” said they’ve seen changes in the types of people that are being hired to become police officers. They cite more diversity and a change in mindset.

“We are hiring people who can understand the value of seeing people as people and listening to their stories, and I think in the future that will prevent the bad outcomes we all don’t want to happen with police,” Frome said.

Lt. Jincy Pace, who leads the Hillsboro Police Department’s community engagement team, agreed.

“I think probably the most important thing that we are doing, just in general, the culture, is the kind of people that we are hiring it is huge. We are hiring a different type of individual as police officers than we did 20 years ago,” Pace said. “In my 20-year career, I have watched the culture within just the police community, I’ve watched it change. What officers talked about and how they spoke 15 – 20 years ago, when I first started my career, is not the way that we talk now.”

Pace added Hillsboro is “hiring very diverse people with very diverse voices” who think about different ways to do the job.

Lake Oswego Police Chief Dale Jorgensen said policing needs to start “being on the cutting edge of different ideas.”

“Until we are nimble and able to find those niches that work for each of our communities, we will never really achieve that community policing,” Jorgensen said.

He also said police departments need to find the implicit and explicit bias and train officers better.

“We are getting ready, for example, in our department to engage with the Evolve project, the Red Door project and that group to come in and to give us some training on the bias that we all hold,” he said. “We are looking forward to engaging in those conversations and then finding maybe some of those officers that have some of those bias and work through them.”

‘It was a bloody summer’

Earlier Thursday, Mayor Ted Wheeler told KOIN 6 News what he hopes the city will do to move policing forward after a summer of staffing shortages and gun violence.

Mayor Ted Wheeler at Portland City Hall, October 21, 2021 (KOIN)

“A lot of the community members who testified in March said, ‘If we do nothing it will be a bloody summer,'” Wheeler said. “Guess what? It was. It was a bloody summer.”

The mayor also explained why the Gun Violence Reduction Team was disbanded.

“The GVRT was disbanded for a couple reasons,” he said. “Number 1, there were several audits that showed that it was not accountable and transparent. There were also audits that showed there was an element in disproportionality in the way policing was being conducted.”

Wheeler said he believes he now has adequate support on the Portland City Council to move forward on permanent staffing for the Focused Intervention Team (FIT), which is supposed to help stop gun violence before it starts.

“It creates a police-centric unit which goes out and specifically tries to intervene and prevent gun violence,” he said. “It works with the new Enhanced Community Safety Team on the investigative follow-up. So if there is bad actors we can take them off the street and we can prosecute them.”

The mayor said FIT is expected to be in the field in November.

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