PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Mayor Ted Wheeler on Friday addressed public safety in Portland after a series of recent shootings, including one that took place just feet from where a 3-year-old boy was playing.
In a virtual press conference, KOIN 6 reporter Elise Haas pressed Wheeler about why he did not respond to multiple requests for comment after the boy was nearly caught in the crossfire of a shootout between separate cars in the Piedmont neighborhood over Labor Day Weekend. The boy had been riding his scooter on the sidewalk in front of his home while six other young kids were in their yards, about 30 feet from the shootout between men in separate cars seen racing through the neighborhood.
The boy’s family said they wanted Wheeler to talk about accountability and what actions his office is taking to protect communities, especially young children, from gun violence.
“I honestly can’t answer that question, because I don’t know anything about that particular outreach to the office, but I’ll get directly to your question about accountability and the steps going forward,” Wheeler said Friday. “I feel highly accountable for community safety. That’s part of the reason I’m standing here today in front of the press, outlining the steps that we’re taking now, outlining what we’re going to be doing in the future. Being honest and transparent about some of the gaps that currently exist in our system.”
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell weighed in, saying the case was documented and is under investigation.
“There’s some evidence that we were able to gather to investigate that,” he said. “And as the mayor said, we take public safety seriously in the city. It’s painful to see community members injured and shot and wounded by gunfire in our streets.”
The mayor said Portland is on track to have its deadliest year in decades.
He said he has had two work sessions with Community Safety Work Plan leaders, who are working on a Community Safety Transition Plan. That plan has three priorities: refocus, reform and restaff.
Wheeler said he is busy hiring additional staff for the Police Bureau, saying that the Focused Intervention Team will be fully staffed by November.
One new program is a ‘Retire, Rehire’ program, that would allow around 80 officers set to retire to instead continue working.
Wheeler said he supports expanding the Portland Street Response city-wide. There are also plans to have a call number – 311 – absorb some of the non-emergency calls so that police can focus on life-saving emergencies.
“Above all else, we have to remain flexible and responsive to community needs. I’ll be providing regular updates as these initiatives progress,” Wheeler said.
Chief Lovell said the bureau has recovered 800 firearms so far this year.
“We’re out there working with the resources we have, and we’re working to add more,” Lovell said.
The Portland Police Bureau said there have been 889 shootings and 46 homicides involving guns to date in 2021 in the city. In recent days there have been shootings that left more than 100 shell casings littering the street near NE 95th and Prescott. Another 26 bullets were found were found near SE 72nd and Woodstock. A woman narrowly escaped injury when one of the bullets went through her windshield and 2 other bullets hit a Portland Park Ranger truck.